An opening 15 minutes to forget for the UAE as first Trent Sainsbury headed unmarked from a corner before Jim Davidson finish made it 2-0 and the UAE never recovered with no outstanding chances of their own.
This semi-final was one that no one really expected. Australia was expected to top their group thus they would’ve appeared in the other semi-final had they made it and the UAE weren’t expected to beat Japan on penalties. It was by far the biggest shock in a tournament where shocks have been disappointingly lacking. They frustrated Japan for 120 minutes before Shinji Kagawa missed his sudden death penalty allowing Ismail Ahmed to put his side through.
Getting this far has taken a long time for the UAE. They had never won the tournament with their best finish being runners-up in 1996 after they hosted the tournament. The focus over the past few years has been youth. Most of this team were in the U23 squad that travelled to the London Olympics where they drew with Senegal before narrowly losing to Uruguay. Their manager for that tournament was Mahdi Ali, the same man in charge of the senior side now. In fact, since 2003 he has been involved in UAE youth teams apart from one year spent at Al Ahli, a club where he spent his whole playing career.
Australia’s quarter final was against China PR and it was also a 2-0 victory as Tim Cahill once again came to his country’s rescue with a trademark header and a wonderful overhead. These two sides have only ever met in friendlies in 2011 and 2014 both of which ended goalless. Tiredness could’ve been a factor in this game. The UAE had to go through 120 minutes and penalties against Japan and had a day’s less rest than their opponents who had a relatively straightforward win against China.
The hosts couldn’t have got off to a much better start as they took the lead in only the third minute. The Socceroos won a corner and as it came in Trent Sainsbury lost his marker before he headed in at the back post. The fans didn’t have to wait long for the second as Jason Davidson made it 2-0 in the 14th minute. A cross from the right hand side nearly found the aerial threat that is Tim Cahill before he was put off it at the last second.
Massimo Luongo slid in on the loose ball to tee it up for Davidson who produced a composed finish right into to corner of the net giving Majed Naser no chance from such close range. The UAE repeatedly looked like they were going to threaten before one of their players would be ruled offside, Ali Mabkhout was the main perpetrator.
Ahmed Khalil won the UAE’s first corner before he got his head on the ball from the resulting set piece but he couldn’t direct it towards goal. Mark Milligan had the last chance of the half after linking up well with Tim Cahill but his shot went just wide as the half came to a close. At half time Mohamed Abdulrahman was brought off for Ismail Al Hammadi.
The UAE started the second half on the front foot and were clearly trying to get a goal back early on in the half. The first chance fell to Ahmed Khalil after Mabkhout pulled the ball back for him but it was just too far in front of the Al Ahli man. Then Khalil had another effort that flashed across Matt Ryan’s goal and only just missed as the UAE continued to push.
Australia then countered with Ryan giving the ball to Kruse, who ran down the left before cutting inside and firing. Unfortunately for him his shot didn’t have enough power and trickled wide. Matt McKay came on for Mark Milligan who had done a brilliant job containing UAE star Omar Abdulrahman. Jedinak was subsequently booked for stepping right on the heel of Abdulrahman but the following free kick came to nothing. Then Ahmed Khalil came off for Al Hammadi before there was a blatant dive from the UAE that went unpunished by the referee.
Luongo was given the ball soon after with a reverse pass from Leckie from which he tried to curl an effort into the corner but Naser pushed it round the post. Amazingly the referee gave a goal kick in spite of Naser’s blatant touch and he did the exact same thing only a minute or so later when Matthew Leckie’s shot was pushed wide. The game then suffered a bit of a quiet spell after with neither side really threatening before Robbie Kruse came off for James Troisi.
It was the 89th minute before there was another decent chance and it was for Mabkhout. He was put through but goal scorer Sainsbury blocked superbly at the vital moment to deny the player and send his side through to the final with a clean sheet.
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