Ismail Matar has a big reputation but is going through a lean spell. The Wahda striker tells Amith Passela results matter more than goals.
Ismail Matar: time to justify the hype
It could be the moment for Ismail Matar to regain his position at the top of UAE football.
The forward burst on to the scene as the best player in the Fifa Youth World Cup in Abu Dhabi in 2003 and won both the best player and top scorer awards at the Gulf Cup in 2007, netting five goals in five matches as the UAE won their maiden regional championship.
Four years later, Matar will again be on the big stage in front of an international audience for Al Wahda, the Pro League champions, as the Club World Cup kicks off tonight at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
Matar, 27, is still regarded by many pundits as the best player in the country, but has not lived up to his reputation in recent seasons.
However, Josef Hickersberger, his coach, has backed the striker to produce in the tournament opener against Hekari United, the Oceania champions from Papua New Guinea.
"Ismail is a player who can change the game at any time and under any situation with one single move. That's why he is still regarded as the best player in the country," said the Austrian, who led Wahda to the Pro League title last season.
"His presence always has the opposition under pressure. Ismail is the target of all opposition attention and it is pretty obvious when you have a dangerous player on the pitch. For me, he need not necessarily score goals, but he creates for the others and has the opposition always under pressure, and that's a good enough contribution from him."
Matar won the Golden Ball for the best player at the Youth World Cup, an award voted for by journalists, as the UAE reached the last eight. He was also the UAE's hero when they won the Gulf Cup as hosts in 2007.
"Those were good times for me and hopefully I can do it again in the Club World Cup," Matar said. "It is not unusual for any player to go through a lean period, but I think I have done fairly well for the team, which is more important.
"The success of the team is what matters at the end. There is no point scoring goals if you can't win the game. All that we need is someone to put the ball in the back of the net, and I think we have enough players to do that for us."
The Football Association left Wahda players out of the senior national team sqaud that travelled to Yemen for this year's Gulf Cup so that they could concentrate in their preparation for the Club World Cup and Matar added: "We have trained and prepared for this competition as for no other tournaments.
"National pride is also at stake. The Football Association has made it clear that we do well and give a good impression of the UAE game.
"It is almost like playing for the national team in front of an international audience. We have a strong team with several national team players and four foreign players. All the players have been preserved with this event in mind. Some of those players with little injuries have got a good break to prepare themselves and they are all ready."
Matar has had opportunites in the past to leave Wahda for European clubs, but opted to stay in the UAE.
He played for Al Sadd of Qatar in the Emir Cup after moving on a six-month loan deal in May 2009. He scored three goals in two games and took his club to the semi-finals. Wahda renewed his contract for five years in 2009 and he intends to retire when that deal ends, in 2014.
"It is a long time from now and I am not sure what may happen, but at least that's what I have in mind," he said. "We may or may not qualify for the next World Cup in Brazil and I certainly can't think I'll still be playing until 2018. God willing, after football, I want to have my own business."
8pm, Abu Dhabi Sport 1 and Aljazeera Sport 2, +3 and +8
Mohammed bin Zayed ?Stadium
Today – qualification play-off: Al Wahda v Hekari United 8pm
Friday – quarter-final 1: TP Mazembe v Pachuca 8pm
Dec 14 – semi-final 1: Winner QF1 v Internacional 8pm
Zayed Sports City Stadium
Saturday – quarter-final 2: Play-off winner v Seongnam 8pm
Dec 15 – fifth-place play-off: 6pm; semi-final 2: Winner QF2 v Inter Milan 9pm
Dec 18 – third-place play-off: 6pm; Final: 9pm