Khalil heroics help UAE stun Japan

Ashwani Kumar/Abu Dhabi
Filed on September 1, 2016 | Last updated on September 1, 2016 at 05.26 pm
Khalil heroics help UAE stun Japan
United Arab Emirates (UAE) forward Ahmed Khalil (R) scores a penalty kick against Japan during their football match in the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup at Saitama Stadium on September 1, 2016. - AFP

Khalil's wonder strike in the 20th minute and a Panenka penalty in the 54th saw the UAE dream of a World Cup berth since 1990 get a big booster.

A double strike from Ahmed Khalil helped the UAE beat Japan 2-1 in their 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifying match at the Saitama Stadium on Thursday.

Khalil's wonder strike in the 20th minute and a Panenka penalty in the 54th saw the UAE dream of a World Cup berth since 1990 get a big booster. The match was a brilliant team effort with the Great Wall of the UAE defence thwarting the barrage of Samurai intrusions in the final half hour. It was a nail biting finish to the proceedings and keeper Khalid Eisa was a busy body. The defiant Emirati defence fought fire with fire and ensured the team down Japan for the first time in the Cup qualifiers. Coach Mahdi Ali will be a relived man with this win.

For Khalil, this is his No. 13 on the Road to Moscow 2018.  And for the record, Khalil 20th minute stunner was the first goal conceded by the Japanese defence in the World Cup qualifiers. The Japanese defence had stood resolute for 740 minutes but it took an Emirati just 20 minutes to blow it apart.

The day started with the 'Samurai Blue' controlling possession. And in the 11th minute Keisuke Honda drew the first blood. Honda leapt over all to connect a free kick with a header that saw the ball bounce off the ground into the net.

Meanwhile, Madhi Ali said: "I'm very happy with the result. It's a wonderful thing to start the third round with a win away against one of the best teams in Asia. against Japan in Japan," said Madhi Ali at the Press conference.

The coach feels the win is only the first step.
"Hopefully this win gives us more confidence but at the end of the day it's only one game and one step from 10."
Ali was realistic about the game despite the win in the bag. The UAE were pushed all through the match and it was Ahmed Khalil, who made the difference on the day. "We haven't achieved many things yet even with this win," he said. "We knew Japan would press us at home but the players did everything that I asked for and it shows with the two goals we scored that the team has the personality needed and this was not only a game against Japan but also other issues including jet lag." 
The UAE now face Australia on Tuesday and he hoped that will be a 'be even better'.
The mood in the opposite camp was, understandably, somber.  Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic said the team were 'very disappointed from the bottom of our hearts'.
"In regards to the result, it's a realistic reflection of our ability now and we have to accept it," said.
Halilhodzic said the team could not live up to the high expectations.
"Our opponents showed a better performance."
Halilhodzic said the UAE were 'better organised'.
"We knew how they would play but the two or three players on the UAE were on a very high level and they were great players and I have to accept that," he added.

Also read: Shaikh Mohammed congratulates UAE football team on WC qualifiers win

Keeper Eisa made a desperate dive but it wasn't enough. Japan were maintaining the momentum and it was against the run of play that Ahmed Khalil converted through a free kick in the 20th minute.

Maya Yoshida brought down Ali Mabkhout and it resulted in a free kick. Khalil curled in a set piece kick that Nishikawa couldn't reach despite getting fingertips to it. The UAE were breathing fire from here on. Playmaker Omar Abdulrahman tested Shusaku Nishikawa with a long ranger but went wide. Half time 1-1.

The second 45 started with Japan pressing forward in hordes. Ryota Oshima's thunderous shot was well saved by Eisa. It was end-to-end stuff, tackles were rising and referee was busy distributing yellow cards. It was a challenge made on Ismail Alhammadi by Ryota Ohshima that saw referee award a penalty. Khalil steeped in with expectations of an entire nation behind him. It was nerves of steel to take a Panenka penalty at such an occasion. And as Nishikawa dived the wrong way, the capacity stadium was dead silent. But the UAE erupted in joy.

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