Gulf Cup: UAE 2 Iraq 1
UAE 2 Iraq 1
(AET: 1-1 after 90 minutes)
UAE O Abdulrahman 28’, Al Hammadi 107’
Iraq Mahmoud 81’
Man of the match: Omar Abdulrahman (UAE)
MANAMA // On the night the UAE's golden generation took their first steps towards going platinum, Omar Abdulrahman, their waif-like talisman, confirmed his status as the most precious commodity in Arabian Gulf football.
The 21 year old from Al Ain struck a sublime individual goal to lay the platform for the national team to win the Gulf Cup on a heady night in Bahrain.
They needed an extra-time goal from Ismail Al Hammadi to finally see off a brave performance by Iraq, but they merited this victory.
"I thank God for this win," said the midfielder Khamis Ismail, "and I thank these fans who never stopped supporting from first whistle to last, and of course I want to thank the coaching staff"
"Today we answered those who thought this team was too young too inexperienced to win here, this tournament is only the start"
Given that this was a team effort - with the collective extending to a travelling support that was extraordinary in both quantity and noise - it may seem unfair to single out any individual for special praise. But Abdulrahman sometimes does that.
Rory McIlroy may have left Abu Dhabi prematurely, but there is plenty of scope for a lucrative rebrand on those wigs.
Nike might even want to have a look into this one, too. The hirsute Al Ain playmaker has the sort of rare talent for which substantial cheques are written.
Even if they had not already heard of his burgeoning reputation, Iraq's defenders were given enough sighters of Abdulrahman's skills in the first half-hour last night. It was beyond their powers, however, to stop him giving the team in white the lead with a majestic solo run.
There is little wonder this UAE team have picked up so many additional fans lately.
There are few sides knocking around the game at the moment who play with as much elegance as Mahdi Ali's long-term charges.
This may have been foreign territory, but the backing for UAE was as partisan as it gets.
Even the few Bahrainis and Kuwaitis who stuck around from the third-place play-off earlier in the day went with the popular vote and plumped for Mahdi Ali's side.
The UAE's players should not have been cowed by the raucous atmosphere. After all, the majority of them were part of the squad for the London 2012 Olympics, and thus played at Wembley Stadium.
The great expectations prompted anxiety at the start here, though. The national team could have been two up in eight minutes, but Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout both botched rushed efforts.
They did not take much longer to settle, though. Soon enough, Abdulrahman was dipping into his vast box of tricks.
There is more than one way to win a football match, however, and Iraq took an alternative route to get to their target.
Their more direct method is reliant on heart, and they possess that in spades. When Younis Mahmoud levelled with nine minutes left, it was no more than they deserved.
Given their resurgence, as well as their extraordinary debrief huddle at the final whistle - which looked more like a rave - they appeared to be right on course for victory.
Then Amer Abdulrahman, the other bright young thing of the UAE game, picked a pass to find Al Hammadi in the second half of extra-time and, all of a sudden, the spoils belonged to UAE.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE