x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

UAE clinch a 4-2 win over New Zealand in final warm-up for Olympics

Ahmed Khalil nets twice as Mahdi Ali's men impress in their last game before the London Games, watched by Paul Oberjuerge in Austria.

Omar Abdulrahman put in a man-of-the-match performance against New Zealand in Austria. Nikola Milatovic for The National
Omar Abdulrahman put in a man-of-the-match performance against New Zealand in Austria. Nikola Milatovic for The National

MATREI, AUSTRIA // It was the friendly with everything. The half-hour of sublime UAE skills. The 30 minutes of dogged New Zealand fightback. The return of Emirati superiority. And played to a background of pouring rain, lightning bolts, drizzle, blinding sun and European gloom.

All in 90 minutes.

It was perhaps the perfect final preparation for the UAE Olympic team ahead of London 2012. They saw almost everything they can anticipate from a major tournament in England, from wet weather and a slippery pitch to building a lead, wasting it and winning it back again.

Ahmed Khalil scored twice, giving him four goals from seven training-camp friendlies, the best in the team.

The UAE's two diminutive midfielders, Omar Abdulrahman and Amer Abdulrahman, dominated the early going with technical skills that might have seemed pointlessly arrogant had they not been so effective.

The two, who are not related, ignored the rain and wet field to put on clinics of ball control and passing, and between them may have set a UAE record for back-heel passes in a single match.

New Zealand, however, did not go away, and a goal by Marco Rojas in the 58th minute at the Tauernstadion tied the game at 2-2.

The Emiratis got the decisive goal just short of the hour mark with a penalty by Hamdan Al Kamali, and the clincher 14 minutes later when Amer Abdulrahman found Khalil on a diagonal run, and the Al Ahli man did the rest.

The first UAE goal came as Omar Abdulrahman picked out Khalil making a burst toward the goal, just a half-step from being offside, and rolled the ball forward to him. The striker did not waste the chance, taking one touch before firing the ball into the corner of the goal in the 20th minute.

The Emiratis doubled the lead, and this time it was Amer Abdulrahman who was the catalyst. He surprised the central defender Tommy Smith near the edge of the box, dispossessed the Ipswich Town player, and sent a back-heel pass to Rashid Essa, the wide midfielder who had anticipated the whole sequence and had come up in support.

Essa was unmarked as he sent a the ball inside the far post in the 25th minute, and the UAE were in control.

New Zealand, however, have a national reputation for obstinacy in endeavours athletic, and what had seemed a mostly harmless and clumsy forward line yielded a goal by Shane Smeltz, after a flick on from the captain Ryan Nelsen from a corner, in the 39th minute.

The sun returned at half time, almost as if nature were giving both teams the full English weather experience, albeit from the Alps of East Tyrol.

The most encouraging aspect of the match for the UAE was how the two Abdulrahmans were able to take over play in the middle of the park. The most disturbing was the cheapness of the two New Zealand goals.

Mahdi Ali, the coach, will be looking for more of the former and eliminating the latter when the UAE open Olympic play on July 26 against Uruguay at Manchester's Old Trafford.