x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE lose Asian Cup qualifier

A masterclass by Server Djeparov, the continent's top player, leads Uzbekistan to a 1-0 victory at the Sharjah Stadium.

Uzbekistan players celebrate at the final whistle after defeating the UAE 1-0 in Sharjah.
Uzbekistan players celebrate at the final whistle after defeating the UAE 1-0 in Sharjah.

SHARJAH // Server Djeparov, Asia's leading footballer, dealt a harsh lesson to the UAE's youthful national side as he guided Uzbekistan to three points in their Asian Cup qualifier at Sharjah Stadium. Djeparov, the Uzbek playmaker, was named the Asian Footballer of the Year in 2008 for his dynamic displays for their champion club side, FC Bunyodkor, as well as the national team. The Tashkent club have been training at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence this week. While the majority of international interest still surrounds their marquee Brazilian signing Rivaldo, Djeparov, 26, is their most important player on the field. He is said to be a target for the big-spending English Premier League side Chelsea, and he proved to be a cut above everything else on show in Sharjah. It was the national team's second match in the qualifying competition for the 2011 tournament, which will be staged in Qatar. They went into the encounter with spirits soaring following a 5-0 demolition of an abject Malaysia last time out. However, Dominique Bathenay, the Frenchman in charge of the UAE, warned against overconfidence in the build-up, suggesting the poor standard of the Malay side had skewed perspective. It was immediately apparent the Uzbeks would provide a far tougher opposition. The Emirates were giving away 45 places in the Fifa rankings to their visitors, and they barely touched the ball for the first 20 minutes. Yet they still had the best chance to take the lead. An incisive move down the right flank reached a disappointing terminus when Ali Wehaibi, the Al Ain winger, stroked a lame cross into the grateful arms of Ignatiy Nesterov, with Mohammed Omar waiting to pounce. Uzbekistan made them pay soon after, when Farhod Tadjiyev, their centre-forward, headed home at the near-post from an appetising right-wing cross by Ildar Magdeev. As the UAE chased the game, their recent punishing schedule started to tell. It was their seventh match in the space of a month ? an unusually high workload for an international team ? and they flagged visibly during the second-half. Despite the tiredness, they threatened twice after the restart, first when Mohammed al Shehhi dragged a shot wide after Wehaibi and Ismail Matar forged an opening. Matar, the UAE's star No 10, then drilled a powerful shot through the Uzbekistan wall from the edge of the box. The away side were lucky to see the ball rebound to safety off the goalkeeper, Nesterov. Djeparov nearly capped his masterclass with a goal in injury-time, after charging down an attempted clearance by the home keeper, Majid Naser, but his audacious lob from the left-touchline drifted just wide. pradley@thenational.ae