The UAE’s second ‘Golden Generation’ dream of Qatar qualification miracle

There's one more chance for the UAE's national football team to replicate what the nation's first Golden Generation did in 1990, but it would have to be done the hardest possible way. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 24 March 2022

The UAE’s second ‘Golden Generation’ dream of Qatar qualification miracle

  • Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s team, who meet Iraq on Thursday, must qualify through the playoff route
  • The Emiratis must finish third in Group A, defeat Group B’s counterpart and then overcome CONMEBOL’s fifth-place nation

The sun is setting on the UAE’s second “Golden Generation” of footballers.

Ismail Matar, Ali Khaseif, Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout thrilled the world at the London 2012 Olympics, won the Gulf Cup in 2013 and then, as arguably one of the continent’s best teams, captured hearts as they reached the last four of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia.

But the coveted place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia never materialized and the team’s performances plateaued.

Now there is one more chance.

Can the UAE pull off a miracle, just as the nation’s first Golden Generation did in 1990, and qualify to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar?

They’ll have to do it the hard way, indeed the hardest possible way.

As we reach the last two rounds of matches of the Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022, no Arab team has yet secured a seat to Doha, though Saudi Arabia are within touching distance — or three points — of confirming their place. A win against China in Sharjah on Thursday, or simply matching Australia’s performance against Japan, will do the trick.

For the other Arab teams, the long and risky play-off route awaits.

In the Group A, three Arab teams — the UAE, Lebanon and Iraq — are still in with a mathematical chance of finishing third, while Syria has lost all hope.

The UAE, in third place with nine points, are best-placed to qualify, followed by Lebanon with six points and Iraq comes in fifth place with five points.

The third-placed teams in Groups A and B will meet in a play-off, with the winner earning the thankless task of trying to get past the fifth-placed team in the CONMEBOL qualification group — currently Peru — in a one-off match to reach Qatar.

New UAE coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena will not be looking that far ahead at this stage.

The Emirati team has a golden opportunity to secure third place after FIFA and the AFC decided to move Thursday’s clash with Iraq from Baghdad to Riyadh, giving the away team the huge boost of playing on a neutral ground.

The two nations do have World Cup history. The UAE’s first Golden Generation agonizingly lost out to Iraq in the playoffs for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

But four years later, the likes of Adnan Al-Talyani, Mohsin Musabah and the brothers Nasser and Fahd Khamis did it the hard way, drawing four matches and winning only one in the final six-team group stage, to join South Korea at Italia 90. It remains the UAE’s only World Cup appearance to date.

This represents the last chance for this group of players to emulate the stars of the 1980s and 1990s.

Long-time captain and talisman Matar has returned to the squad after some brilliant performances for his club Al-Wahda this season, and, at 38, this is surely his swansong.

Goalkeeper Majed Nasser, who is 37, has also made a comeback, while Walid Abbas is 36. Naturalized Argentine Sebastián Lucas Tagliabúe is 37 and ruled out due to injury.

Fabio De Lima and Caio Canedo have come into the fold in recent years and could be seen as quick fixes.

Perhaps no three players epitomize the Emirati Golden Generation of the last 15 years more than Omar Abdulrahman, Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout, who all starred in Australia seven years ago.

The 31-year-old Mabkhout remains the qualification campaign’s highest scorer across all continents with 14 goals, though he has been woefully out of form for the UAE in his most recent appearances.

Injuries and lack of form, meanwhile, have seen golden boy Abdulrahman, “Amoori,” and 2016 Asian Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil — both 30 — slowly slip out of contention.

The current UAE squad is a mix of heroes from the Mahdi Ali-inspired group, established stars like Khalfan Mubarak and a batch of promising youngsters that include Alio Saleh and Yahya Al-Ghassani.

After Iraq on Thursday, Arruabarrena’s team will meet South Korea at home in their final Group A fixture next Tuesday. Finish third and thoughts of a miracle qualification can cautiously be entertained.

Awaiting them, potentially, would be the likes of Australia and Peru.

But miracles are rare in football. Sadly, we could be seen seeing the last of the UAE’s second Golden Generation once and for all.

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Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

Updated 05 December 2022

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

  • Bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October
  • The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia is set to host the 2027 Asian Cup after India withdrew its bid.
The Asian Football Confederation issued a statement Monday saying the All Indian Football Federation had withdrawn from the host selection process. No reason was published.
The bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October and the final decision was expected to be made at a regional congress in February. Saudi Arabia is now the only candidate to host the 2027 tournament.
The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host. Qatar, which is hosting the ongoing World Cup, has already staged the Asian Cup twice.
The Saudis started their World Cup campaign in Qatar with a stunning 2-1 upset win over Argentina, but didn’t advance to the knockout stages after back-to-back losses to Poland and Mexico in Group C. Argentina topped the group and then edged Australia in the Round of 16 to qualify for the quarterfinals.

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Aggressive England beats Pakistan by 74 runs in 1st test

Updated 05 December 2022

Aggressive England beats Pakistan by 74 runs in 1st test

  • England leads its first test series in Pakistan in 17 years 1-0 
  • Multan and Karachi scheduled to host the remaining two games

RAWALPINDI: England showcased its masterful approach of aggression in test cricket with a superb 74-run victory over Pakistan in the final session of the first test on Sunday.

Needing 263 runs with eight wickets in hand on Day 5, Pakistan was dismissed for 268 against the reverse swing of James Anderson (4-36) and Ollie Robinson (4-50) — losing its last five wickets for just 11 runs after tea.

Jack Leach had the last wicket of Naseem Shah, trapped leg before wicket after England delayed the second new ball for well over an hour with Anderson and Robinson doing the damage with the old ball.

Pakistan succumbed to the relentless attacking field settings of England captain Ben Stokes before Robinson and veteran Anderson sliced through the lower order after Pakistan was placed at 257-5 going into the final session.

Robinson had earlier ended the nearly four-hour defiance of one of the four Pakistan debutants – Saud Shakeel – in the second session to a brilliant diving catch by Keaton Jennings as the lefthander top-scored with 76.

England had posted an electrifying 657 and Pakistan responded with 579 to concede a 78-run lead on a grass-less wicket where seven batters from both sides scored centuries.

England made a bold declaration with another rapid 264-7 in just 35.5 overs on Day 4 and set Pakistan a challenging target of 343 in four sessions.

England leads its first test series in Pakistan in 17 years 1-0 with Multan and Karachi scheduled to host the remaining two games.


England subdue Senegal to book France clash in World Cup quarters

Updated 05 December 2022

England subdue Senegal to book France clash in World Cup quarters

  • Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane put Senegal to the sword with a pair of clinical finishes before half-time
  • Bukayo Saka added a third, but it was Jude Bellingham’s prodigious work-rate and burgeoning quality in possession that allowed England to turn the tide

AL KHOR: England set up a titanic World Cup quarter-final against holders France as Jude Bellingham’s masterclass inspired a 3-0 win against Senegal in the last 16 on Sunday.
Gareth Southgate’s side survived a nervous start at the Al Bayt Stadium before Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane put Senegal to the sword with a pair of clinical finishes before half-time.
Bukayo Saka scored England’s third, but it was Bellingham’s prodigious work-rate and burgeoning quality in possession that allowed them to turn the tide.
Bellingham set up Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup.
Kane has now netted 11 times at major tournaments, overtaking Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in those competitions.
But at the tender age of 19, it is Bellingham who has emerged as England’s driving force.
He is the first teenager to assist in a World Cup knockout stage game since 1966, having already announced his arrival on the global stage by netting his first England goal in the 6-2 rout of Iran in their group opener.
Just two years after he was playing in the English second tier with Birmingham, the precocious Bellingham was totally unfazed against Senegal in the biggest game of his life.
England will need another command performance from Bellingham if they are to extend their stay in Qatar beyond the last eight.
Eyeing a third successive semifinal appearance at major tournaments, England will return to the Al Khor desert on Saturday to take on the red-hot Kylian Mbappe and company after France brushed aside Poland 3-1 on Sunday.
Euro 2020 runners-up England have won only one of their last eight meetings with France, who pose a significant threat to their hopes of winning a first major title for 56 years.
The depth of attacking talent available to Southgate could be crucial and, defending his decision to drop Marcus Rashford for Saka despite the forward’s double against Wales, he boasted “we have an embarrassment of riches in all areas of the pitch.”
After a rocky opening when they passed too slowly and looked anxious at the back, England hit their stride to show why Southgate has such confidence in them.
Fuelled by the incessant drumming from their vibrant fans, African champions Senegal initially showed no fear as they tested England’s composure with a high press.
Senegal squandered a golden opportunity to take the lead when Harry Maguire gave the ball away and Boulaye Dia’s volley deflected off John Stones into Ismaila Sarr’s path, only for the Watford forward to blaze over from close-range.
Preying on England’s nerves, Sarr harried Saka and Dia seized the loose ball, forcing a good save from Jordan Pickford with a fierce drive.
That proved the turning point as England snatched the lead against the run of play in the 38th minute.
Bellingham sprinted onto Harry Kane’s incisive pass into the Senegal area and clipped a precise cutback into the path of Liverpool midfielder Henderson, who guided his low strike past Edouard Mendy from 12 yards.
Henderson’s goal served as a jolt of adrenaline that coursed through England as they doubled their lead seconds before the interval.
Bellingham was the catalyst with his well-timed tackle and a crisp pass to Foden, whose perfectly-weighted lay-off allowed Kane to race clear for a clinical finish.
England strolled through the second half and, repaying Southgate’s faith, Saka put the result beyond doubt in the 57th minute.
Foden made a dynamic run down the left and Saka reached his cross to flick a clever effort over Mendy from close-range.


Giroud and Mbappe guide France past Poland and into World Cup quarter-finals

Updated 04 December 2022

Giroud and Mbappe guide France past Poland and into World Cup quarter-finals

  • Mbappe’s lethal strike in the 74th minute killed off any prospect of a Poland comeback and he netted again at the death to move to nine goals in just 11 World Cup appearances
  • The threat of Robert Lewandowski was snuffed out by the French defense although the 34-year-old Poland captain did get the consolation of scoring a stoppage-time penalty

DOHA: Kylian Mbappe set up a history-making goal for Olivier Giroud and then scored two himself as holders France eased into the quarter-finals of the World Cup with a 3-1 win over Poland on Sunday.
Giroud’s opening goal a minute before half-time was his 52nd for his country, allowing him to pass Thierry Henry and become France’s all-time record marksman.
Mbappe’s lethal strike in the 74th minute killed off any prospect of a Poland comeback and he netted again at the death to move to nine goals in just 11 World Cup appearances, the second-most for a French player at the tournament.
At the other end the threat of Robert Lewandowski was snuffed out by the French defense although the 34-year-old Poland captain did get the consolation of scoring a stoppage-time penalty.
France, though, march on to the quarter-finals and remain on course to become the first team to successfully defend the World Cup since Brazil 60 years ago.
France were overwhelming favorites against a Poland side who had limped through the group stage, but the memory of their exit from Euro 2020 served as a warning.
France had been 3-1 up and cruising in that last-16 tie against Switzerland only to concede two late goals and end up losing on penalties, with Mbappe missing the crucial spot-kick.
Mbappe returned on Sunday as one of nine changes following their inconsequential defeat by Tunisia, with goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris also returning to win his 142nd cap.
That saw him equal the record for most France appearances held by Lilian Thuram, whose son Marcus came off the bench here.
It was a history-making occasion for France but what coach Didier Deschamps wanted above all was a routine victory and progression to the quarter-finals.
The sky should be the limit for a French side led by Mbappe, but it is not just him.
Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann were lively in a strong start amid a hushed atmosphere at Al Thumama Stadium.
The fans were happy to sit back and be thrilled as the big screen at one point showed that Mbappe had reached a top speed of 35 kilometers per hour.
France’s pace and pressing was too much for Poland as Przemyslaw Frankowski gave possession away, leading to Dembele crossing to the back post for Giroud to somehow put the ball wide.
Poland, who have not won a World Cup knockout match since 1982, recovered from a tentative start to almost go ahead in the 38th minute as Lloris blocked a shot by Piotr Zielinski and Jakub Kaminski’s follow-up was stopped on the line by Raphael Varane.
Those misses proved crucial as France seized the lead a minute before half-time.
Patient build-up play ended with Mbappe having a glance as he received the ball just outside the box before playing in Giroud who took a touch and finished into the far corner.
Poland were left to chase the game in the second half and they sent on Juventus striker Arkadiusz Milik to support Lewandowski for the final half hour.
However, their attack was simply no match for France, who picked off Poland to make it 2-0.
A Griezmann clearance was brought down by Giroud and he released Dembele whose ball into the middle was controlled before being blasted home by Mbappe.
It was an emphatic finish and was followed by another of a similar calibre from a Thuram assist in stoppage time.
Only Just Fontaine, who scored 13 in 1958, has scored more World Cup goals for France.
Lewandowski then pulled one back right at the end, converting a retaken penalty that was awarded for a handball by Dayot Upamecano.


Fury stops Chisora to retain WBC heavyweight title

Updated 04 December 2022

Fury stops Chisora to retain WBC heavyweight title

LONDON: Tyson Fury retained his World Boxing Council heavyweight title with a decisive stoppage win over British rival Derek Chisora on Saturday.
Fury, still unbeaten as a professional, dominated from the start, and with Chisora's eyes starting to close, referee Victor Loughlin stopped the fight shortly before the end of the 10th round at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The 34-year-old now boasts a record of 33 wins from 34 fights with one draw.
Fury's latest win also paved the way for a unification bout with Oleksandr Usyk, the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion.
Usyk was at ringside on Saturday as he returned to the venue where he deprived Britain's Anthony Joshua of all those titles in September last year before defeating him again in Jeddah this July.
Soon after Fury's hand was raised in victory, he was involved in a ringside face-off with Usyk with only the ropes separating him from the Ukrainian.