x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

UAE bow out with abject loss to Iran in the Asian Cup

A second-string Iranian side advances while Iraq ensure a quarter-final face-off against Australia.

Iran's Mohammad Gholami's shot at goal hits the crossbar, next to United Arab Emirates' Walid Abbas (No 14).
Iran's Mohammad Gholami's shot at goal hits the crossbar, next to United Arab Emirates' Walid Abbas (No 14).

DOHA // Srecko Katanec believes the UAE can return home with their heads held high despite finishing the Asian Cup without a goal and crumbling to a 3-0 defeat against Iran in their final group game.

Strikes from Arash Afshin and Mohammad Nori, and another own-goal from Walid Abbas in injury time, gave Iran their third win from three group matches and sets them up nicely for the quarter-final against South Korea on Saturday.

Afshin’s celebrations were, however, soured after he picked up his second booking of the night in the 73rd minute. The UAE were also reduced to 10 men six minutes later when defender Khalid Sebil got his second yellow.

This was the UAE’s second defeat of the tournament; they lost 1-0 to Iraq after a goalless draw against North Korea in their first game.

Still, the UAE have won a few admirers in Qatar and Katanec believes that is a sign of the good times ahead.

“We were without luck,” Katanec said. “We did not have even five per cent luck which is incredible.

“We even scored an own goal. We played in a very strong group and we played good football. We can keep our head up and continue to work hard.”

Needing to beat Iran, and hoping for a North Korea win over Iraq, the UAE started in earnest with Subait Khater testing the Iran goalkeeper Shahab Gordan with a booming free-kick in the ninth minute.

Five minutes later, Ahmed Khalil weaved his way into the crowded box, but luck deserted him at the finish. The Al Ahli striker was denied by the post as he attempted to squeeze the ball past the Iran goalkeeper.

Luck continued to elude Ismail Matar as well and he was looking at the heavens in the 18th minute after volleying into the side-netting from a tight angle.

Khalil then watched a Matar flick sail harmlessly across the face of the goal in the 45th minute after the Al Wahda playmaker had done well to outpace Farshid Talebi in getting to Hamdan al Kamali’s pass.

After the barren first half and knowing that Iraq had taken the lead against North Korea, Katanec changed tactics in the 53rd minute, taking Ali al Wehaibi off, putting Omar Abdulrahman in and pushing Matar up as the second striker.

The strategy, however, did not bear fruits and tensions in the UAE camp boiled over a bit around the hour mark.

Katanec apparently called out to Khalil, but the striker angrily gestured at him to sit down. The coach looked peeved and walked back to his seat in the dugout.

“I just called his name,” Katanec said. “His reaction was not good, but that happens during the game. Nothing special.”

To add to Katanec’s woes, Iran took the lead in the 69th minute off a lightning counter-attack with Afshin shooting home after Mohammed Gholami’s header had bounced off the crossbar.

Four minutes later, Afshin was given his marching orders for a second yellow and Sebil followed him up the tunnel a bit later.

The loss of the defender hurt the UAE as Nori got the second for “Team Melli” in the 83rd minute following a neat one-two with Khosro Heidari.

Then, in injury time, it was deja vu for Abbas. The UAE left-back, who had conceded an own goal against Iraq in the last match, faced that ignominy once again as the ball raced off his foot into the net as he chased Iran’s Gholam Rezai on a counter-attack.