United Arab Emirates advanced to a quarter-final meeting with Group B winners Japan at the AFC U-16 Championship India 2016 as they finished as Group A runners-up after Wednesday’s 3-1 win over Saudi Arabia at GMC Stadium.
Despite intense Saudi pressure throughout much of the tie, with the young Green Falcons needing a win to keep their hopes of a place in the last eight alive, UAE’s incisive counter-attacks proved the decisive factor in the tie.
Ahmad Fawzi netted on the break four minutes before half-time and after Nawaf Al Duraywish had levelled for Saudi Arabia on 63 minutes, they were hit by second sucker punch by Mohmed Ali on 79 minutes before Abulla Al Naqbi confirmed the victory with his 81st minute strike.
And with Iran winning 3-0 over hosts India in the group’s other tie at Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, it is the Iranians who finish top of the standings by virtue of a superior goal difference.
The onus was on Saudi Arabia to attack and Mohammed Al Abdali’s side were fully intent on doing so as they hit the woodwork on three minutes courtesy of a speculative effort from left-back Abdulaziz Al Malki that looped over Salem Al Hareth and bounced off the top of the crossbar.
Encouraged, the young Green Falcons maintained their tempo and Dhari Al Anazi got to the byline and fired in a cross that Al Hareth could only push as far as Hamad Al Abdan but his shot into the ground skimmed the foot of the post as it inched wide.
And Al Abdan took aim again 18 minutes in but this time his effort from 20 yards went wide of the opposite upright much to the midfielder’s audible frustration.
Despite Saudi Arabia enjoying the lion’s share of possession they found themselves a goal down with four minutes of the half remaining when UAE forward Fawzi beat Saudi ‘keeper Hashem Al Asmari to the ball in a foot race, rounded-him, and slotted home.
The Emiratis had an immediate chance to restore parity after Abed Alaziz Dawod clipped the heels Mohammed Mali inside the area but Al Abdan saw his unconvincing spot-kick saved by Al Hareth.
Saudi Arabia continued as they left off after the interval as they looked to haul themselves back on level terms and on the hour Feras Al Brikan did force Al Hareth into a save with a header from Abdullah Al Sawat’s right-wing cross.
But just three minutes later Al Duraywish headed towards goal at the second attempt following a corner and the ball squirted out of Al Hareth’s hands and across the line.
Al Hareth then denied Al Anazi with back-to-back saves as the Saudis poured forward looking for the crucial second goal.
Such adventurous play did leave the side open, though, and UAE took full advantage with an incisive counter-attack that ended with Ali side-footing past the exposed Al Asmari to restore their lead.
And Majid Rashid should have made that a two-goal cushion on 79 minutes as he went through on goal but for a brave save at his feet by Al Asmari.
The Saudi custodian was beaten for a third time shortly after though as Ali Saleh slipped in substitute Al Naqbi to make the score 3-1 and eventually end the resistance from Saudi Arabia.
United Arab Emirates coach Abdelmajeed Al Nemer
It was a really hard game as all the teams had a chance to qualify for quarter-finals. Saudi Arabia have a good team with really talented players but we knew we had to win, that was all we wanted, so I congratulate my players for this victory.
Although a draw would have been enough for us, we told our players we have to win. We have to take things seriously.
We knew that Saudi Arabia would attack us, so we planned to play defensively and use the counter-attack which worked for us.
After the match, I congratulated my players but I told them we still have more games to come. We still have a chance to go to the World Cup.
Saudi Arabia coach Mohammed Al Abdali
I would like to congratulate United Arab Emirates and wish them the best in the coming matches.
We dominated most of the game, but they got their chances through our mistakes and we were punished; that’s football.
We were nearly there especially when we scored the equaliser, but the second goal of by UAE brought the confidence down. They were looking forward to get the winner and then suddenly we had conceded another and then a third.
The boys performed well at this tournament but they were unlucky.
We will work on these mistakes, though, and I hope they will learn from this and perform well in the future.
This was an official Press Release provided by the Asian Football Confederation