The UAE could not, in the end, hold off a sustained Saudi Arabia attack on Tuesday night in Jeddah, falling to the hosts 3-0 in a key 2018 World Cup qualifying match.
UAE World Cup hopes take serious dent in 3-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia 3-0 UAE
KSA: Al Muwallad 73’, Al Abed 80’, Al Shehri 90’
Man of the Match: Nawaf Al Abed
Mahdi Ali’s men went into the match with aspirations of securing a victory that would have moved them top of Group B, however a superb volley from substitute Fahad Al Muwallad, Nawaf Al Abed’s curled effort and a Yahia Al Shehri free-kick sealed the win for the hosts.
As it is, the UAE sit fourth in the standings after four matches, with the Saudis leapfrogging Australia at the summit. Only the top two teams are certain to book a place at Russia 2018. The UAE, who have never beaten Saudi Arabia in a competitive fixture in Saudi, have now not defeated their Gulf rivals in nine matches, dating back to 2007. Of those, they have lost eight.
To be fair, there was not much to choose between the two sides in the first half, with the UAE beginning stronger but Saudi Arabia dominating territorially from just after the halfway point. Following a series of shots from distance from his side, Mohanad Salem had perhaps their best chance, although he failed to direct his header on goal once Ismail Ahmed had flicked on a corner in the 24th minute.
At the other end, Saudi finally sprung to life just before the half hour, when right-back Hassan Fallatah first forced UAE goalkeeper Majed Naser into action from a low cross-cum-shot. From the resultant corner, Fallatah again caused problems down the UAE’s left-hand side. This time, his cross was parried by Naser to the onrushing Salman Al Faraj, but the midfielder blasted over.
Saudi Arabia should have taken the lead on 53 minutes, though. Midfielder Taisir Al Jassem whipped in a free-kick form the left and, as the UAE took a collective step out, Mansour Al Harbi was left in plenty of space. However, the defender somehow headed over the crossbar.
Twenty minutes later, Bert van Marwijk’s side grabbed the decisive goal. Al Faraj took advantage of being afforded too much space in midfield, floating a perfect ball to Al Muwallad, who met the pass first-time to finish high past a despairing Naser. He had been on the pitch only seven minutes. The King Abdullah Sports City erupted.
The home supporters soon had plenty more to cheer, when Al Abed bent his effort into the top corner from just inside the UAE penalty area after a Saudi counter-attack. It was the Al Hilal playmaker’s fourth goal in as many matches – his first from open play. His team underlined a resounding triumph in injury-time, Al Shehri scoring from a free-kick on the edge of the box.
So Saudi Arabia clinched a potentially defining triumph, leaving the UAE outside the play-off spot in the group.
They next take on Iraq on November 15 in Abu Dhabi.
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