x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Honduras score late goal to edge short-handed UAE squad in opener

UAE played majority of match down a man as Brayan Velasquez scored in the 86th minute to lift Honduras to a 2-1 win at Fifa Under 17 World Cup.

UAE's Alakberi Mohamed, left, and Honduras' Luis Santos fight for the ball during their opening match of the Fifa Under 17 World Cup in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Sammy Dallal / The National
UAE's Alakberi Mohamed, left, and Honduras' Luis Santos fight for the ball during their opening match of the Fifa Under 17 World Cup in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // This was not how the Fifa Under 17 World Cup was meant to start for the UAE.

A committed rearguard at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on the opening night of the tournament against Honduras was ended by a late goal, a harsh result for a side reduced to 10 men too early in the game yet one that somehow maintained parity until then.

Indeed, as often happens, the UAE got their act together only after Sultan Al Shamsi had been given a straight red 24 minutes into the game for a challenge on Anoal Hernandez out on the left. The decision by Gianluca Rocchi to show red was considered harsh by some, including the UAE coach Rashid Amir. “In my opinion, our player didn’t deserve a red card,” he said. “It was a foul but a yellow, at the most.”

He said the numerical disadvantage, over the final 66 minutes, and some missed chances, doomed his side.

“We had a nice start. We created a few early scoring chances and missed at least two opportunities during that period, and then the red card, all this upset our game plan,” he said.

“We expected to win the first game but that didn’t happen. Now we have to take the difficult path playing Brazil in the next match. Yes, they are very strong team but we need to win the next two to have any chance of going beyond the group stage.”

Honduras were probably better than many might have expected and certainly as an attacking force they brought both incisiveness and trickery. Much of their prompting came from Isaac Borjas and the wonderfully named Rembrandt Flores, a nimble pair of attacking architects.

With Alberth Elis providing a strong and fast outlet, threats emerged. The first clear chance came after 19 minutes, Elis bursting past his marker only to shoot wide when through. But reward came soon enough and it was little surprise that Elis and Flores were involved; Elis broke down the left and played the ball across the edge of the penalty area.

Flores could have shot but chose, unselfishly, to lay it further across for Fredy Medina, who rifled home low to Mohammed Al Shamsi’s right.

The match turned further in their favour with Sultan Al Shamsi’s dismissal minutes later, but that was merely the push the home side needed to get their act together and in Mohammed Al Akberi they had the heart of all that was good about their recovery.

He had missed a golden chance in the second minute, when one on one, but he now became two men at once up front. He linked play, held the ball up, started attacks and turned up at the end of them. He was involved in their equaliser just after the half hour, Suhail Al Noobi chipping Al Akberi’s pass into the box, where Khaled Khalfan burst past the keeper to finish.

They were barely troubled after that, and not through much of the second half in which Al Akberi’s wispy mobility was a constant, counterattacking danger. Few clear chances emerged, but as the game entered the last quarter, Borjas, Flores and Brayan Velasquez assumed increasing influence.

Twice, from a corner, Abdullah Al Hammadi saved the UAE with point-blank blocks off the line. But the inherent skill of the Honduras forward line, even if intermittent by then, felt decisive. Sure enough, with four minutes left, Velasquez popped up on the edge of the penalty area to arrow home a winner; they probably just about deserved it, though Al Akberi and the UAE did not deserve their fate.

Jose Valladares, the Honduras coach, acknowledged the red card to Sultan Al Shamsi benefitted his team.

“It is a fact and we capitalised on the numerical advantage,” he said. “We are comfortable with the three points at the moment but that doesn’t guarantee us qualification to the knockout round.”

* Additional reporting by Amith Passela


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