x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Smash and grab from al Menhali

A battling UAE keep their winning record intact at Tashkent after the substitute's match-winner three minutes into added time.

UAE's Yousef Al Hammadi is all over the ball before Server Djeparov of Uzbekistan can challenge him during their Asian Cup qualifying match in Tashkent.
UAE's Yousef Al Hammadi is all over the ball before Server Djeparov of Uzbekistan can challenge him during their Asian Cup qualifying match in Tashkent.

Sultan al Menhali's goal three minutes into added time gave the battling UAE a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan last night, keeping the team's remarkable winning record in Tashkent intact. Al Menhali, a second-half substitute, tapped the ball home after his Asian Under 19 title-winning teammate Ahmed Khalil caught the Uzbeks napping with a swift counter-attack, seconds after Server Djeparov's shot had cannoned back off a UAE post.

Khalil, the Al Ahli striker, crossed the ball as he was brought down and al Menhali, who plays for Al Jazira, shot into an open goal, throwing the UAE bench into a frenzy. The Emirates have now won on each of the three occasions they played in the Uzbek capital. The win gave the UAE top spot in Group C of the 2011 Asian Cup qualifying, but both teams had already booked their passage to the finals in Qatar next January. The result, however, could be a significant milestone going forward.

In all probability, this match could, and should, be the end of the road for some of the more established members of the team. They looked listless as Uzbekistan dominated the first-session, but the game gradually turned around once Srecko Katanec brought on the youngsters al Menhali, Khalil and Saeed al Kuthairi. Of the old guard, Majed Nasser was simply outstanding and arguably played the biggest role in UAE's triumph, frustrating the hosts from the opening minutes to the final seconds.

If the UAE managed to finish the game without conceding, it was purely for the brilliance of the Al Wasl custodian. The game may have been inconsequential with both teams already through to January's finals in Qatar, but the home fans still considered it important enough to brave the cold and fill the Pakhtakor Stadium. The support, of course, managed to bring out the best in Uzbekistan and the hosts held absolute sway. Missing some of their best players, Katanec's men were left chasing the ball for most of the night and were fortunate that Uzbekistan could not translate their domination into goals. They did have plenty of chances.

The first real threat for the UAE came in the 10th minute when Ahmedov Odil muscled his way past the jostling UAE defenders and attempted to lob, but Nasser plucked the ball off his feet. Seconds later, Aleksandr Geynrikh also managed to create space with a neat flip, but Nasser had the shot well covered. Nasser remained in the thick of action right through, called into play virtually every minute or two.

In the final seconds of the half, Odil unleashed a scorcher towards the far corner and Nasser dived low to his right to rescue UAE for the umpteenth time. To Nasser's relief, the UAE found a foothold in the second half and the relentless Uzbekistan assaults gradually petered out as al Kuthairi, al Menhali and Mohammed al Shehi started to string together a few attacks of their own. Al Kutahiri found the target in the 75th minute, but his strike was chalked off for off-side. Al Menhali, however, was perfectly positioned to give UAE their first away win since the 5-0 thrashing of Malaysia in January last year. @Email:arizvi@thenational.ae