x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Olympics: UAE get reward for fine performances

The draw with Senegal was deserved after good play in the three games, the team were competitive and won the country's first point in two big tournaments.

Omar Abdulrahman has had a good tournament for the UAE.
Omar Abdulrahman has had a good tournament for the UAE.

COVENTRY, ENGLAND // This was a team who deserved a result. Perhaps not as much from this game as the two previous, but it would not have seemed right for the UAE football team to leave the London 2012 Games without a point.

Often outplayed by Senegal for long stretches last night, the UAE got a poised goal by the veteran Ismail Matar, from a wonderful, no-look pass by Rashid Essa, to take a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute, conceded a goal in the 49th to Moussa Konate and then hung for a draw against the big and athletic Africans 1-1 at City of Coventry Stadium.

It marked the first point won by the UAE in the two great tournaments in which they have played, the 1990 World Cup and these 2012 Games.

The Emiratis lost 2-0, 5-1 and 4-1 in Italy 1990, but were more competitive here.

They led Uruguay 1-0 before falling 2-1, and equalised Team Great Britain at 1-1 in the 60th minute before 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium.

To be sure, they were sharper in those two games. They seemed to match up poorly against the Senegalese, who dwarfed the Emiratis, man for man, and if their draw was in large part about wasted chances by Senegal, the UAE will happily take it.

Matar, who got a warm round of applause when he was substituted late in the game, scored two of the UAE's three goals in the 2012 Games, and Essa scored the other, and set up one.

Omar Abdulrahman had a hand in all three.

Also playing well was Khalid Essa, who took over from Ali Kasheif in goal and fended off a dozen good chances from Senegal.

The first 45 minutes mostly seemed about the UAE thwarting repeated forays into their half by the Senegalese. Emirati marking seemed loose, even disjointed, but that may have reflected a conscious decision to give the African side, who boast several speedy attackers, space in exchange for defensive presence between them and the goal.

Omar Abdulrahman had the first half chance of the game, a shot from the wing after a short corner, and it was closer than it appeared, over the goalkeeper, but just outside the far post.

Senegal missed by inches taking the lead in the 16th minute when Konate, the leading scorer in the tournament with four goals, was not quite able to get his toe on a marvellous cross from Pape Souare, the marauding left-back.

The UAE goal came as a shock. Again, it started with Omar Abdulrahman, who played a deep ball out to the left, where Rashid Essa was moving forward.

He almost immediately encountered a risky tackle by Zargo Toure, the right-back, who failed to win the ball, and Essa carried it towards the goal.

He was picked up near the top of the box by the central midfielder Kara Mbodji, and the Al Wasl midfielder stopped the ball and shifted it to his left, took a touch, shifted it back to his right, as Mbodji sailed past, and while looking away looking played a soft ball in front of goal.

At the moment, Matar had reached the penalty box after a long run, and he got his foot on the ball a fraction of a second before the defender reached it, and he lifted it over the keeper and into the goal, and it was 1-0.

For the third consecutive match in these Olympics, the UAE had a surprise goal and a surprised opponent. Senegal recovered to advance to the quarter-finals, as did Team GB, from Group A.