Al Hilal playmaker Omar Abdulrahman stepped up for a depleted UAE and netted the sensational equaliser in Thursday evening’s promising 1-1 draw with Honduras.
January 2019’s Asian Cup hosts walked out at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys without prolific Al Jazira striker Ali Mabkhout and Shabab Al Ahli forward Dubai Club’s Ahmed Khalil – both withdrawn late on Wednesday because of minor injury concerns. A sense that the duo’s absences would contribute to another confidence-sapping scoreline grew in just the 15th minute when Houston Dynamo winger Romell Quioto put the Central Americans ahead from close range.
But this international break’s planned improvement in opposition – Honduras are ranked 62nd by FIFA, 15 places higher than the UAE – did not cause a fifth defeat in seven matches. The merits of a new 4-3-3 formation were on show as the Whites confidently pinged the ball about and Al Wahda veteran Ismail Matar, back as skipper after a year-long absence, eventually played in Abdulrahman to authoritatively curl into the bottom corner past the half-hour mark.
Mabkhout and Khalil are both expected to return when their Barcelona training camp – the third of five before next year’s continental tournament on home soil – wraps up with Tuesday’s friendly against Venezuela.
Another strong result will further ease pressure on coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
Last month in Catalonia, the UAE beat minnows Laos 3-0 – for a first triumph since January – and were downed 2-0 by an undercooked Trinidad and Tobago. August’s spell in Austria culminated with a harrowing goalless stalemate with Andorra.
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