x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Keepers handing it to opposition

Remember Paul Robinson, Massimo Taibi or Peter Enckelman? They are all decent goalkeepers, but are remembered most for one awful mistake, a goofy moment that hangs like a dark cloud over their career.

Remember Paul Robinson, Massimo Taibi or Peter Enckelman? They are all decent goalkeepers, but are remembered most for one awful mistake, a goofy moment that hangs like a dark cloud over their career. While such moments are a novelty among the elite leagues of world football, they are virtually an everyday occurrence here in the UAE. If you have watched the Pro League you will know what I mean.

The most recent was Majid Nasser's slip in Saturday's 2010 World Cup qualifier against South Korea. He could have probably done a lot better to deny the first goal, but the second was simply outrageous. The UAE goalkeeper ran to his right in a desperate bid to stop the ball from going for a corner. As television replays showed, the ball had crossed the byline before Nasser pulled it back into play. The linesman missed it and to the keeper's horror, he had dragged the ball to Yueng ki-Sung's feet. The South Korean gladly accepted the gift, tapping the ball into the unguarded net.

That faux pas put the match beyond UAE's reach - overcoming a one-goal deficit was imaginable, but scoring three against a South Korean defence, who had conceded just three goals in five previous games, was virtually impossible. UAE's campaign in the final round of Asian World Cup qualifying has been littered with similar gaffes, with both goalkeeper and defence guilty. As coach Dominique Bathenay rightly points out, the UAE's woes cannot be blamed on the "goals we score or miss", but "the goals we concede".

The Whites have scored six in the final round of Asian qualifiers, which is more than Bahrain (five), Qatar (four) and Uzbekistan (five): Iran have scored the same number of goals. Yet all these teams have more points than the UAE. Bahrain and Iran have managed seven points each, Qatar have five and Uzbekistan four. Australia, who top Group A, have scored just eight goals, but the reason for their success lies in the next column: they have not conceded any in six games.

The UAE have given away 16 goals, the most among the 10 teams. These statistics are the reason for the UAE's dismal show, which has brought just one point. Of course, the goalkeeper alone cannot be blamed for all those goals conceded. The UAE's defence has been as guilty of errors, both on the international stage and individually in the domestic league. If you look back at the past season, seven of the 12 Pro League teams finished with a negative goal difference. Al Jazira scored 57 goals in 22 games, which is only 20 fewer than Liverpool's total in 38 Premier League matches.

The most goals, after the relegated Al Khaleej (51), were conceded by Al Wasl (46) and the man guarding the nets for them was UAE's No 1 goalkeeper, Majed Nasser. Unfortunately, the best-performing goalkeeper of the Pro League, Al Jazira's Ali Khasif, has spent most of his time among the reserves in the national team, behind Nasser and Obaid al Tawelah in the pecking order. Jazira conceded just 17 goals last season and Khasif was obviously helped by the assuring presence of Marcio Rozario in the back four.

The Brazilian's success could, perhaps, encourage other teams to invest in good overseas defenders. But, considering the level of goalkeeping in the country, it would not be a bad idea to end the rule that bans foreign keepers. In the long run, the Pro League and UAE football, would benefit a lot from that. There have been too many soft goals conceded, and that always means having to score an extra goal to win a game.

arizvi@thenational.ae