UAE warm up for World Cup qualifiers with friendly win over Iceland
UAE 2-1 Iceland
UAE Al Hammadi 25’, Mabkhout 48’
Iceland Kjartansson 14’
MOM — Omar Abdulrahman (UAE)
DUBAI // The UAE warmed up for their crucial World Cup qualifying double-header in March with a comfortable 2-1 friendly victory against Iceland in Dubai.
Mahdi Ali’s men, competing for the first time in two months, have an important couple of fixtures on the horizon, with the success of their Group A campaign decided by the outcome of matches against Palestine and Saudi Arabia.
That five-day spell, coming shortly after another friendly against Bangladesh, has occupied the national team’s thoughts since their November win in Malaysia, and so prompted a meeting with Iceland on Saturday at Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium.
Originally, Iceland would have appeared strong opponents, given they contest a first major finals this summer having qualified for the European Championships by topping a group that included the Netherlands and Turkey. Victories home and away against the Dutch were testament to a country on the rise.
In Dubai, though, the visitors put out a shadow side, in large part because this period is not recognised by Fifa as an official international break. Eidur Gudjohnsen, the former Chelsea and Barcelona forward and Iceland’s record goal scorer, was the team’s one notable name. He sported the captain’s armband.
In contrast, the UAE were almost at full strength. Khamis Esmail continued his return from injury, sitting alongside regular partner Amer Abudulrahman in the centre of what is typically Mahdi Ali’s go-to midfield.
Not surprisingly, a second-string Iceland struggled to cope. The Europeans began well, hitting the crossbar shortly after kick-off and scoring on 14 minutes through Vidar Orn Kjartansson’s header. Majed Naser, in the UAE goal, got a hand to the ball, but could force it only inside his post.
In truth, the hosts had handed their opponents the initiative. That World Cup-qualifying victory against Malaysia seemed an eternity away, with the UAE terribly slow to get going.
However, Omar Abdulrahman soon found his range and, from there, the home side found their feet. Midway through the first half, the Al Ain playmaker drove a perfect pass from the halfway line to set Ismail Al Hammadi clear, leaving the Al Ahli winger to round the goalkeeper and level the score.
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Just before that, Ali Mabkhout spurned a decent opportunity, with Ahmed Khalil striking the crossbar from a free-kick. The UAE captain, last month named the finest player in Asia, should have then scored with a header following more clever work from Omar Abdulrahman.
Mabkhout put the UAE ahead with a well-taken volley minutes after half time, but he was uncharacteristically off colour for the majority. To be fair, he has laboured for Al Jazira this season.
He continued to toil against Iceland, shooting straight at Ingvar Jonsson in the Iceland goal when sent clear by Omar Abdulrahman in the 69th minute.
It was left to Omar Abdulrahman to control much of the remainder of the match, as is his wont, the golden boy of the so-called golden generation orchestrating proceedings though his aptly gold-coloured football boots. He has enjoyed a fine few months for both club and country; much will depend on a continuation of that form through to Spring.
Ultimately, the evening’s work proved a reasonable run-out for the UAE. Grander assignments wait later this year, when the Emiratis’ road to Russia gets clogged by Palestine and Saudi Arabia. No doubt, they will offer sterner examinations than a below-par Iceland could muster.
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Updated: January 16, 2016 04:00 AM