x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tears of joy for Khalil

Ahmed Khalil ensured UAE's passage into the quarter-final of the Under 20 World Cup with a late winner against Venezuela.

The UAE striker Ahmed Khalil is overcome with emotion after scoring his side's late winner against Venezuela.
The UAE striker Ahmed Khalil is overcome with emotion after scoring his side's late winner against Venezuela.

The talismanic Ahmed Khalil ensured UAE's passage into the quarter-final of the Under 20 World Cup with a late winner for the Asian champions against Venezuela. Khalil struck the winner seven minutes from time after an evenly contested first half, which saw Jose Rondon open the scores in the 12th minute and Mohammed Ahmed cancel it out 10 minutes later. The UAE will now meet Costa Rica for a place in the semi-finals in Cairo on Saturday night. As promised, the UAE looked a different side to the one that succumbed 2-0 to Hungary in their final group game. They had looked listless then, but were suffering from a lack of motivation against the Magyars, having already secured their place in the last 16. Against Venezuela, the young Whites were playing to keep alive their dreams of reaching the last-four of the tournament. Backed by partisan Suez crowd, they were also playing for Arab pride after the exit of hosts and possible quarter-final opponents Egypt by Costa Rica a night earlier. Spurred by the challenges, UAE made a confident start to the game with Mohammed Fayez trying to lob the Venezuelan goalkeeper from the halfway line just 40 seconds into the game. The South Americans, playing at the youth World Cup for the first time, were not overawed. In the 10th minute Jose Rondon came very close to putting Venezuela ahead. Receiving the ball from captain Francisco Flores, he made a bolt down the left, but his shot was cleared off the goal-line. Rondon, however, was not to be denied for long and he put the South Americans ahead in the 12th minute from a counter-attack. Yonathan del Valle, the joint top-scorer of the tournament, did most of the work, sprinting with the ball from close to the halfway line before crossing. The UAE keeper Yousif Abdulrahman failed to intercept and Saad Surour missed the ball completely. Rondon, sneaking in behind the defender, tapped home for his fourth goal of the tournament. Stung by the reversal, the UAE hit back with a barrage of attacks and succeeded in levelling the scores in the 22nd minute. Amer Abdulrahman curled a free-kick in and Mohammed Ahmed rose highest to nod home. Ahmed Khalil had a golden opportunity to put his team in the lead 14 minutes later, but his finishing was off. The Al Ahli star powered his way into the box and weaved his way across the Venezuelan keeper, but with an empty goal beckoning, he shot into the side netting. After their first-half fightback, the UAE came out from the break looking a lot more confident and compact and came close to taking the lead three minutes after resumption. Ahmed Khalil, playing his best game yet in Egypt, made a bustling run into the box, powering past three defenders, but Venezuelan keeper Romo, with some assistance from his defence, managed to punch the ball out for a corner. Khalil tested Romo again in the 56th minute after a neat one-two with Ahmed Ali, while Rondon had an opportunity to get his second of the night in the 79th minute, but his shot was cleared by Mohammed Marzooq, who replaced a tiring Saad Surour. Khalil's untiring efforts finally bore fruit in the 83rd minute after another brilliant effort from Ahmed Ali. The Al Wahda ace stole the ball from a Venezuelan defender and crossed for the 2008 Asian Youth Player of the Year to score to make sure the UAE's name is one of the last eight teams to battle it out for the trophy.

arizvi@thenational.ae