Omar leads UAE title defence
Champs UAE beat Yemen 3-1 as Saudi Arabia and Qatar draw ni-nil in Gulf Cup.
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2009 05:13 GMT

Not a bad spot for a kickabout [AL JAZEERA]
Yemen versus the United Arab Emirates isn't a match that has many people rushing to the newsagents when the international football fixtures are released.

The Yemenis have never appeared in any international competition of note – unless you count an Asian Cup appearance by South Yemen in 1976.

And if anywhere could be described as an outpost of the world game, it is the Royal Oman Police Stadium in Wattayah, where the third match of the 19th Gulf Cup took place on Monday.

Nestled among the dusty hills on the outskirts of the capital, Muscat, it must also count as one of the most picturesque.

Dusk for starters

But as the sun set over those mountains, the supporters of these two Arab states were thinking of anything but beauty and light.

And they certainly weren't thinking of their teams as minnows as they lustily jeered each other's national anthems.

"Any team who will challenge us – they will lose," cried an Emirati through a loudhailer, to be met with scornful whoops from the Yemen contingent.

For Yemen, this was a chance to topple the reigning Gulf Cup champions and to make a mark on football bragging rights in the region.

They almost did that with less than two minutes on the clock, the ball rolling loose in the box to stocky striker Ali Alnono, who blasted goalwards only to see his shot cannon off a defender, onto the bar and out.

Omar (centre) gets some love [AFP]
Hopes snuffed

That brief hope had flared and died a half-minute later.

Mohammad Alalawi surged down the left and crossed for Mohammed Omar, the winning captain in 2007 who was back from retirement.

He was tugged to the ground by the last man, the ref pointed to the spot, and his laziest of dribbled shots wrongfooted Salim Awadh.

With just 14 minutes gone, UAE cut through the Yemen defence like a knife through labneh.

Ismail Alhamadi played one one-two, then another, and fired a precision shot across Awadh and into the far corner.

Ten minutes later, the Emirati making atmospheric pipe music behind the champs' goal almost choked on his tashgeea as Mohammad Albalushi missed a header and Yemen's Awsam Nasir charged through – only to volley wide.

Man down

Then Yemen made life really hard, going down to 10 men after Mohammed Ali was sent off for a dangerous tackle.

But the disparity was a challenge they seemed to enjoy. Up front, Alnono was proving Yemen's wildcard.

The sort of stub-shaped grenadier that defenders hate, Alnono shielded and hustled before flicking dangerous balls onto onrushing attackers as UAE's towering centre halves struggled to get anywhere near the ball.

He even drew a poor challenge from Emirati star man Mohammad Alshishi, earning the midfielder a booking.

Talent show

But with more talent across the board, UAE struck again.

Yemen's unflagging supporters got their reward [AL JAZEERA]
On 66 minutes Alshishi hared onto an inviting ball over the top, and volleyed past Awadh for 3-0.

UAE themselves went down to 10 men three minutes later after a tackle by Faris Hassan on Moad Alamri, before Alnono earned his reward in added time.

Alaa Abdullah's run into the box frightened the UAE defence into bringing the winger down, but the ball rolled to Alnono who calmly stroked the ball home to give the travelling support something to cheer.

Afterwards, UAE goal hero Alshishi said the opening group B victory was just the first step for his ambitious team.

'Nice goal'

"I have been maybe two months without scoring with my club. Here I scored a nice goal but it was important just to take the three points," he said.

"We must defend our title. We must do it because we are a family and we want to be champions together."

UAE coach Dominique Bathenay said Yemen had been a tougher prospect than expected.

"It was a difficult match and we had a very fragile five minutes at the start," he said.

"It's important to get this win because the next game against Qatar will not be easy."

He also praised star striker Ismael Matar, who made an appearance from the bench despite the death of his father on the eve of the tournament.

"He agreed that he would participate, even if only to prepare for the next match," Bathenay said.

Saudi stalemate

The night's late match saw World Cup 2006 qualifiers Saudi Arabia draw nil-nil with neighbours Qatar to wrap up the first set of fixtures in both groups.

Bahrain top group A with three points after their stunning 3-1 victory over Iraq on Sunday, with Kuwait and Oman tied on one point and Iraq bottom.

An identical set of results in group B see UAE sitting pretty and Yemen in last place, with Qatar and Saudi Arabia the meat in the sandwich.

Group A continues on Wednesday when hosts Oman face Iraq and Kuwait play Bahrain at Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex.

Al Jazeera
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