UAE draw with India under torrid conditions in Delhi but reach the group stages of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup after winning 5-2 on aggregate.
UAE navigate way through India monsoon in World Cup qualifier
India 2 // UAE 2 (UAE win 5-2 on aggregate)
UAE: Mohammed Al Shehhi 40, Ali Al Waheibi 71
Man of the Match: Ali Al Wahebi
On the eve of the game, the India coach Armando Colaco had claimed his team had a “mountain to climb” after losing the first leg 3-0 in Al Ain. Instead, they found themselves with an ocean to swim at home in Delhi last night.
A heavy downpour, starting 30 minutes before the match, left Ambedkar Stadium pitch clogged in ankle-deep water and the motion of the ball became a mystery on the soggy field. The players were left chasing shadows as the ball refused to roll and the hardest kicks came to abrupt halts on contact with the surface.
Some experience of beach soccer would have helped on the night and the players did borrow a bit of those skills, but it was still a scrappy duel which ended 2-2 with Mohammed Al Shehhi and Ali Al Waheibi scoring for the visitors, while Jeje Lalpekhlua and Gouramangi Singh replied for the hosts.
“The fans are still on the ground,” said Colaco after the game, in a veiled reference to the UAE fans who started leaving around half-time in the first leg. “They have not left yet because they appreciate the football we have played. We were two goals down and we have fought back, which is marvellous.”
While Colaco counted his brownie points, the 5-2 aggregate win took UAE into the group stages of Asian qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where 20 teams will be divided into five groups. The top two from each group will advance to the fourth round from where the group winners and runners-up will book their tickets for Brazil.
The UAE will now wait for the draw of the third round, which will be held on Saturday, but they will surely be pleased to return home with a draw from conditions alien to them. India, with more experience of playing in rain, had the upper hand for most parts of the game.
The UAE goalkeeper Ali Khasif was kept busy by the long balls that India kept floating for Sunil Chhetri, but the Al Jazira keeper proved equal to the task, making a particularly valiant save in the 30th minute when he dived to pluck the ball from the feet of Chhetri after the India striker had tricked his way around Hamdan Al Kamali.
As India dominated, the UAE got the goal that virtually sealed the fate of the match. Six minutes from the break, Al Shehi dived forward to head home a cross from Ahmed Khalil and silence the partisan crowd.
Amer Abdulrahman had a great chance to make it 2-0 in the 44th minute, but blasted high over the goal from close range.
As the downpour continued, the teams had an extended break before they returned with India needing five goals to halt UAE’s journey towards the 2014 World Cup. If the task for the host seemed improbable at the break, it turned virtually impossible in the 71st minute when Al Waheibi doubled UAE’s score with a blistering right-footed strike.
Lalpekhlua brought some cheer for the home fans three minutes later when he nodded home to the far corner and Gouramangi Singh restored India’s pride into injury time, booting home from inside a crowded box.
The hosts celebrated the draw, though it was the end of their 2014 World Cup dreams. They will now turn their attention to the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup.
“I have always said these boys are the future of India,” Colaco said. “New things are happening in Indian football and these boys will take the game forward. They played well and I am sure they will marvellous things in the future.”