x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Job only half done, says UAE coach, after shock win over North Korea

A 1-0 lead is not enough and the most critical part is yet to come, cautions Ali, after praising the players for handling the pressure well.

Omar Abdulrahman, the UAE midfielder, dictates play against North Korea in Pyongyang yesterday.
Omar Abdulrahman, the UAE midfielder, dictates play against North Korea in Pyongyang yesterday.

Mahdi Ali, the UAE Olympic team coach, praised the defensive display of his players after his side took control of their qualifier against North Korea with an 1-0 first-leg victory in Pyongyang.

Ahmed Mohammed bravely got his head to a looping cross from Mohammed Fawzi to score the decisive goal in the 56th minute in front of almost 50,000 fans at the Kim Il-sung Stadium.

The victory means that, if the UAE earn at least a draw in Thursday's return leg in Al Ain, they will qualify for the group stages of the qualifying tournament for London 2012.

"My players handled the pressure remarkably well," Ali said. "They didn't have much time to prepare.

"We had to leave two days after the domestic season ended and now we have to return and prepare for the next match.

"Under these circumstances, the boys played really well. It was a tough game and Korea obviously wanted a win from their home game. They played an offensive game from the onset but my players stood the storm.

"To return with a win is an excellent result. But that doesn't mean we can afford to relax. We have only completed half the job and the critical part is yet to come.

"Of course we will have the advantage of playing at home and also against an opposition we know better now, but a 1-0 lead is just not enough."

Ali has had remarkable success with this group of player team. He led them to a maiden Asian Under 19 championship in 2008, won the U23 Gulf Cup in Qatar and a silver medal at the Asian Games in China, both last year. They also reached the last eight in the U20 World Cup in 2009.

Hamdan Al Kamali, the captain, who marshalled the defensive effort to blunt North Korea's avalanche of attack, also reiterated that it would be premature to celebrate.

"Please remember this match is over two legs and there is no need to get excited," the Al Wahda defender said.

"It is true we won the away game but it is still a long way from qualification. I hope we can perform the same way or even better in our home leg."

The Koreans pushed hard but failed to break the stubborn UAE backline thanks to some excellent defending and poor finishing.

Ri Jin-hyok was the main culprit, putting one chance wide from 10 yards and missing a one-on-one against Adel Al Hosani, the UAE goalkeeper.

The Al Wahda stopper later made an excellent save from a close range effort.

At the other end, Ju Kwang-min, the North Korean goalkeeper, did well to push out Ahmed Khalil's free kick from just outside the area after it had taken a slight deflection from the wall of defenders.

The winner of this tie will be drawn into one of three groups of four teams with the winners of each advancing to the London Games.

The runners up will go into a play-off round at a centralised venue in March. The winners from there will meet the representative from Africa for a berth at the Olympics.