x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Olympics: Future looks bright for UAE team after London 2012 experience

FA president Yousuf Al Serkal praised the performance of the football side after they gained their first ever point at the Olympics.

Ismaeil Matar celebrates his goal against Senegal with Amer Abdulraham and Rashed Eisa
Ismaeil Matar celebrates his goal against Senegal with Amer Abdulraham and Rashed Eisa

COVENTRY, ENGLAND // The Emirati footballers do not go home from London 2012 empty-handed.

Ismail Matar scored in the 21st minute, on an audacious pass from Rashid Essa, the UAE conceded in the 49th, but Khalid Essa sealed the goal tight afterwards, and the UAE hung on for a 1-1 draw with Senegal at City of Coventry Stadium last night.

Yousuf Al Serkal, the Football Association president, said the point they won cushions the blow of close-run defeats to Uruguay and Team Great Britain.

"I'm happy we're not going home pointless," Al Serkal said. "We go back with one, and with some good performances. The boys gave a very good effort in all three games.

"Senegal is a very impressive team, a very strong team, but our boys were not easy to beat. They were tough, too. We are happy to take this draw."

The UAE had never before gained a result from the big two international tournaments in which the country has played. The Emiratis lost 2-0, 5-1 and 4-1 in the 1990 World Cup, and had fallen 2-1 to Uruguay and 3-1 to Team GB at these Olympics.

Senegal controlled large portions of the game, and had far more opportunities, but the Emiratis converted their one good chance, just as they did against Uruguay, when Matar scored the opener in the 22st minute.

Rashid Essa made the no-look pass that led to the goal by the Matar, the Al Wahda forward who has been scoring big goals for the UAE for a decade.

"Ismail Matar was impressive, but he impressed all the UAE football players," Al Serkal said. "He was once the best player at the Fifa Under 17 tournament we hosted in the UAE. He was very good in this tournament, but he has been very good for a long time."

Matar, at 29 the oldest player in the Emirati side, had two of the three UAE goals, and Rashid Essa had the other, which equalised versus Team GB in the 60th minute..

Al Serkal suggested that the Olympic team will be well-received back home.

"We lost the first two matches, but we were not worried about the reaction going home because the people at home understand football. They understand it very well," he said. "They were pleased with the performance of the boys. There were some critics, yes, but the majority were pleased with the performance.

"We were in a very strong group, and you don't necessarily in every tournament make good results. Sometimes the best teams don't qualify from the group. Like Spain here, who didn't even score a goal."

The greatest value of the London 2012 tournament, the FA president said, was the experience gained by a group of young men who now will form the bulk of the senior national side, and by Mahdi Ali, who soon will be named the senior team coach.

"I am very happy we were here, and I'm sure it will be good for our team in the future," Al Serkal said. "I'm happy for the boys to play in Wembley, a glory thing for them in their history. When will they ever have a chance to play in Wembley? And to play in front of the English crowd, and 80,000 spectators, it's good for the players to have done this."

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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