The Whites encounter War Elephants
Thailand's Sasalak Haiprakhon (left) fights for the ball with the UAE's Ali Saleh Amro during the 2022 World Cup qualifying football match in Bangkok Tuesday. - AFP
Dubai - The UAE, on a decent roll and perched on top of Group G, not so long ago, surrender that spot following a 2-1 defeat to Thailand at the Thammasat Stadium, outside Bangkok, on Tuesday night.
Paths are always riddled with obstacles. Nothing comes easy and if life was perfect, it would be boring. It is the lessons learnt from them and how you come back stronger is what matters.
The UAE encountered a blip on their road to the World Cup in 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup in 2023 but should come back better from the experience for future tests that lay ahead.
The Whites, on a decent roll and perched on top of Group G, not so long ago, surrender that spot following a 2-1 defeat to Thailand at the Thammasat Stadium, outside Bangkok, on Tuesday night.
It marked their first loss of the campaign and also that of coach Bert van Marwijk, but the Dutchman and his staff would have made note of the frailties that plagued them on this wet night.
These will surely be addressed when the UAE rack in the air miles again when they make another long-haul trip to southeast Asia in a month's time. The Whites play Vietnam away at the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi on November 14.
The break in the schedule could perhaps be a blessing for the players to rest their aching limbs following a grueling time table that saw them play two fixtures across two different time zones, in the span of six days.
If any rest is possible is unsure as these players will report to club duty with the Arabian Gulf League set to resume this weekend.
It isn't easy travelling and playing in a different country, especially with such a short turnaround. Indonesia coach Simon McMenemy had made that point last week on how southeast Asian teams find it tough and Middle Eastern teams, vice versa.
These aren't excuses and the UAE will give credit where it is due. Thailand were clearly the better side on the night.
The War Elephants were thrifty and speedy, and playing in front of large number of home fans, always gives you the advantage. Their fans, who created a cacophony, were their 12th man.
After starting with the same line-up against the Malaysians and the Indonesians, Marwijk tweaked it by giving a start to Omar Abdulrahman, who was also handed the captain's armband. Veteran defender Walid Abbas and Jassim Yaqoub were left on the bench, while Alhasan Saleh started.
Thailand's intentions were clear and they were quite nippy from the outset. Sarach Yooyen took a crack on 13 minutes but his long range effort was collected safely by Khalid Eisa.
A minute later, Ali Mabkhout, who became the UAE's all-time leading scorer, unnecessarily got into Sri Lankan referee Hettikamkanamge Perera's book after a mindless hack on a Thailand player.
Thailand broke the stalemate on 27 minutes with Teerasil Dangda heading into the far corner of the net following a neat chip from Ekanit Panya.
Half hour into the game, the UAE goal came under siege from Thailand as the hosts made a flurry of sorties. But the backline just about managed to repel them.
Omar Abdulrahman came agonizingly close on 35 minutes but his freekick from the left just shaved the cross bar and went out.
Thailand were denied by the woodwork two minutes later as Dangda's header hit the underside of the cross bar following Theerathon Bunmathan's freekick.
The UAE were given a glimmer of hope in first half stoppage time as Ali Mabkhout headed it in following a measured run and an equally measured cross from Alhasan Saleh.
It began to drizzle at the start of the second half and the UAE's hopes quickly evaporated as Panya tapped it home from the near post following a cross.