x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

UAE stage late rally in U20 opener

The UAE stage a stirring comeback from two goals down to snatch a point against South Africa in their opening group game of the Under 20 World Cup.

UAE's Mohammed Fayez, right, challenges South Africa's Sameehg Doutie during their U20  match in Alexandria.
UAE's Mohammed Fayez, right, challenges South Africa's Sameehg Doutie during their U20 match in Alexandria.

ALEXANDRIA // The UAE staged a stirring comeback from two goals down to snatch a point against South Africa in their opening Group F game of the Under 20 World Cup. Hamdan al Kamali scored from the penalty spot a minute from full time and Theyab Awana headed home in the final seconds to earn a point from a game, which had seemed a lost cause after Kermit Erasmus' second-half brace for the South Africans. There would have been no need for last minute heroics, though, if the UAE marksmen had made use of the opportunities that came their way early on. The South Africans were on the ropes for virtually the entire opening session, but the UAE's poor finishing kept the game goalless. Erasmus struck twice within 13 minutes to give his side, who finished the game with 10 men, a comfortable cushion. The game, however, made a dramatic turn a minute from time when Ahmed Ali was pulled down inside the box and the UAE's skipper al Kamali converted from the spot. Ali then crossed the ball for Awana to rise high and head into the net for the equaliser and send the crowds into raptures. Ali was earlier responsible for Ramahlwe Mphahlele's sending off when the South African captain dragged the substitute Emirati striker down just outside the box in the 82nd minute. It was his second offence and he was given his marching orders. Earlier, backed by a capacity 14,000 crowd, a rare occurrence for any UAE team, the "Whites" turned on the style for their appreciative audience. There were plenty of feints that brought cheers. They hustled hard too, not overawed by their more physical opponents. Goals, however, remained elusive in the first half despite a few good chances. The first came as early as the 4th minute when Ahmed Khalil, Asia's best youth player, made a searing run down the right and crossed for Ali Mabkhoot, who missed the target by inches. Mabkhoot was on target in the 16th minute with a header, but the strike was chalked off for offside. The UAE's best opportunity came in the 33rd minute when the impressive Awana powered his way past a couple of defenders and crossed to Khalil for a simple tap-in. The Al Ahli star, however, cannoned the ball high over the crossbar from just a metre out. The wasted opportunities came back to haunt the UAE when George Maluleka's pass for Kermit Erasmus in the 53rd minute caught the defence napping and the Feyenoord prodigy slipped the ball past the helpless UAE keeper Yousif Abdulrehman. Five minutes later, Khalil had an opportunity to level the score as he went one-on-one with the Bafana keeper Darren Keet but he was off target yet again. The young Ahli star was hauled off a few minutes later and Ahmed Ali was introduced into the attack. Erasmus extended the lead with 18 minutes left and it looked game over for the UAE. But Ali proved right Mahdi Ali's pre-match boast that the Al Wahda ace was his "joker" in the pack with his heroics in the frantic final moments.

arizvi@thenational.ae