x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Olympic team fall at the final hurdle

The UAE Olympic team were more enterprising on the pitch and created more scoring chances, but they had to settle for a silver medal when Japan scored in the 73rd minute to claim victory.

The UAE's Amer Abdulrahman tries to hold off Keigo Higashi, left, and Ryohei Yamazaki of Japan.
The UAE's Amer Abdulrahman tries to hold off Keigo Higashi, left, and Ryohei Yamazaki of Japan.

The UAE Olympic team were more enterprising on the pitch and created more scoring chances, but they had to settle for a silver medal when Japan scored in the 73rd minute to claim a 1-0 victory in the gold medal match at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.

"We tried to diversify our ways of attack but were unlucky and that's football," said Hassan al Abdouli, the UAE assistant coach. "You may perform beautifully but you may not score."

He felt his side improved steadily throughout the competition, which began back on November 7 with a surprise 1-1 draw with Hong Kong in the group stages.

"We improved to the point that some of the teams were forced to defend while we were playing," al Abdouli said. "We learned a lot. We are on the right track. We are looking forward to the London Olympics and what's beyond the Olympics."

Yuki Saneto, the Japan right-back who plays for Kawasaki Frontale, broke the deadlock 17 minutes from time.

Saneto, unmarked on the far side, collected a cross from the left, and he had enough time to take aim and powerfully strike it to the far side corner of the net past Ali Kasheif, the UAE goalkeeper and captain, who seemed to get a finger on the ball as he dived to his right.

Kensuke Nagai had a chance to extend Japan's lead but Kasheif came out of the area to deny him from taking a clear shot at the empty goal.

The UAE came achingly close to taking the lead in the added time of the first half. Ahmed Ali's effort from eight yards off a cross from Theyab Awana hit the underside of the crossbar, bounced down to the ground and rebounded up to the crossbar again off the heel of Shunsuke Ando, the Japanese goalkeeper, who finally gathered it just outside the goalmouth after the second deflection.

Ali also had a chance to score early in the game with a crowd-pleasing bicycle kick. The move was technically impressive, and on target, but it also was directly at the well-placed Ando, who scooped it up. Japan's keeper also made a desperate dive to contain a redirected header from Saeed al Kathiri, a late substitute whose glancing shot nine minutes from full time almost brought the UAE level.

Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, introduced Mohammed al Shehhi and al Kathiri, the two Al Wahda forwards, with 11 minutes left in a bid to grab an equaliser.

Al Shehhi limped off with four minutes left and was replaced by Haboush Saleh, and Japan, who conceded just one goal in seven matches, held on until the end to complete a football double; their women's team had defeated South Korea for gold two days ago.

The UAE, making their first appearance in the Asian Games finals, came into the match after a win over Asian powerhouse South Korea. That semi-final was in the balance until the last kick of extra time, when Ahmed Ali scored the winner.

The Emirates also had to play 120 minutes before winning a 9-8 quarter-final shoot-out against North Korea in the quarter-final.

Those two energy-sapping games did not seem to show in the final as the UAE finished with six shots on goal to Japan's two and controlled the ball for nearly 60 percent of the game.

"Before the game I told my players to contain the UAE's strength and try to create momentum and rhythm on our side," said Takashi Sekizuka, the Japan coach. "I told my players to be patient - patience brings about good opportunities."

South Korea won the bronze-medal match 4-3 over Iran earlier yesterday.

The Koreans went into halftime training 2-0 but rallied sharply, and substitute Ji Dong-won scored in the 88th minute to equalize. He added the deciding goal just a minute later.

* With agencies