x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Time is almost up for the UAE

World Cup hopes are hanging by a thread after Saudis make their superiority count.

Saudi Arabia's Mohammed al-Shalhub goes on a run.
Saudi Arabia's Mohammed al-Shalhub goes on a run.

ABU DHABI // A second successive 2-1 defeat, and some more Emirati fans willing to chuck it. After the outpouring of plastic, came the tossing of a timepiece. These have been a manic past few days for a befuddled UAE coach Bruno Metsu and his scarred side.

Saudi Arabia scurried back across the border on Wednesday having gleaned three points from their visit. The home side were left to pick through the wreckage of two straight defeats. Whether water bottles or watches, it seems that the clock is ticking frantically towards a Doomsday scenario for this UAE side. Having been decked by North Korea last Saturday, time could also be running out for Metsu after a World Cup campaign that has been pointless in every sense.

The UAE football authorities are not renowned for an abundance of patience with coaches, and the chance to compete in a World Cup finals will not reach these parts for another four years. "It is easy to criticise after a game, but I think we have done well when you consider facts," commented Metsu. "Our players lack mental strength, and also we don't have a wealth of talent as most other teams who have reached the final phase."

Without buying into sensationalism, the away match against South Korea on Oct 15 could be a defining moment for Metsu and a posse of honest but losing players. Time is a great healer, but the wounds from this defeat will remain for some time after the thrifty Saudis poured vinegar on lacerations left gaping by the hit-and-run nature of North Korea's win. The paucity of home fans willing to show face at their country's qualifiers over the past few days has been depressingly small. Their apathy is bordering on the ridiculous when you consider they do not have to pay to enter the ground, but the disgruntled mood of the few who have appeared is equally telling. Plastic bottles were thrown on to the pitch. With six matches still to play, they have lost the plot.

Frustration outs itself in curious ways. The thrown watch seemed to be the only thing gleaming in a second half in which the naivety of the UAE saw them relinquish a winning position. It was not a performance of Rolex standard. Subait Khater scored from a corner kick in the 23rd minute, but Faisal Khalil will regret missing a chance to double the lead. The Saudis equalised in the 68th minute courtesy of Abdu Ateef's deflected shot. The substitute Ahmed al-Fraidi scored the winner 18 minutes from the end. The win puts Saudi Arabia on four points in Group Two, level with North Korea.

In Group One, Qatar failed to press home their advantage against 10-man Bahrain in a 1-1 draw. Sebastian Quintana put Qatar ahead after only five minutes and the home side appeared set for victory when Abdulla Marzooq was dismissed nine minutes before the break. But Abdulla Fatadi equalised for the visitors midway through the second half. After taking a 25th minute lead through Scott Chipperfield, Australia survived over an hour of constant Uzbekistan pressure to secure a priceless 1-0 away win in the other Group One game.

Unlike the UAE, Australia have the players to protect a lead. @Email:dkane@thenational.ae apassela@thenational.ae