x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE in semis after marathon shoot-out win

The UAE ended a high-tension match with a 9-8 shoot-out victory over North Korea at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.

As he walked up to the penalty spot, Mohammed al Shehhi appeared serene. He confessed he was not.

"I felt great pressure and was very nervous," he said, "because everybody was watching me," he said.

It did not show.

Al Shehhi hit his shot low and hard and just inside the post, beyond the reach of the diving goalkeeper Kwan Min, as the UAE ended a high-tension match with a 9-8 shoot-out victory over North Korea at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China yesterday.

The victory lifted the Under 23 side into the semi-finals on Tuesday against South Korea.

Ali Kasheif, the UAE captain and goalkeeper, was outstanding between the posts throughout the game, and he made a vital save of a shot from Ro Chol Meung to leave al Shehhi to complete the job for his side.

The Al Jazira stopper and his North Korean counterpart took the field with the best records in the competition: Kwan had not allowed a goal in four games; Kasheif had conceded only one, against Hong Kong in their opener, 12 days before.

Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, was delighted by the result and heaped praise on his players as the nation's "golden generation" team edged closer to another medal.

"Absolutely marvellous performance from my boys," Ali said.

"North Korea had proved a hard team to beat. They had a 100 per cent record of not conceding a goal and even today they were solid in their defence. Yet we had a couple of chances to score and win the game before it went into extra time.

"All credit should go to the players. They gave 110 per cent in this game. They did everything right and matched the Koreans in every department. Our defence was as solid as theirs, and the midfield moved up and down, both in attack and defence.

North Korea had been particularly impressive while progressing to the quarter-finals. The squad was built around seven players who went to the World Cup in South Africa, and they seemed on track for the gold while reeling off four consecutive victories, including a 1-0 decision over South Korea.

"This is a young team," Ali said of his side. "The Korea players are older and many of them are from their senior national team.

"I congratulate all our players and staff."

Ahmed Khalil could have put the UAE ahead in the opening minute of the second half but his effort from inside the area lacked the vital sting and was collected by Wang.

Saeed al Kathiri had another shot at the goal in the very next minute but it went straight at Wang. Khalil, the gifted striker, was later forced to leave the pitch because of an injury three minutes from time.

He was replaced by al Shehhi, who proved at the end to be a wise choice by Ali. Al Shehhi, the Al Wahda forward, is one of the more experienced players in the side but had failed to make the line-up after a poor showing against Hong Kong in the opener.

The UAE's semi-final opponents, South Korea, are three-time Asian Games champions. They defeated Uzbekistan 3-1 in extra time.

Al Shehhi sees no reason why the UAE's momentum should be halted now.

"Our target is to win the next match and reach the final," he said.

In yesterday's other quarter-final games, Iran edged Oman 1-0 and Japan beat Thailand 1-0.

apassela@thenational.ae