What looked like the United Arab Emirates heading to a comfortable victory turned into a great escape of sorts Thursday night after they surrendered a three-goal lead before struggling to win a 7-6 sudden-death penalty shootout over Trinidad and Tobago.
Ali Kasheif, the UAE captain and goalkeeper, saved Kevan George's effort to clinch the victory after nine sets of penalties in the OSN Cup, a four-team friendly tournament, in the opening round at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh.
Habib Fardan put the UAE ahead in the ninth minute and Ali Mabkhout doubled the lead with a 35-yard shot that caught the Trinidad goalkeeper Jan Williams napping.
Ahmed Khalil extended the lead in the second half when he collected a looping pass from Omar Abdulrahman to tap it past Williams for a 3-0 advantage.
The UAE were still celebrating Khalil's goal when Trinidad moved quickly to score almost immediately, through substitute Willis Plaza, who headed a cross from a Lester Peltier.
Kenwyne Jones, the Stoke City striker, reduced the lead further from a spot kick after Kasheif felled Willis Plaza.
Kevin Molino then headed the equaliser off a cross from Robert Primus. The UAE were unlucky when a volley in the waning moments of regulation from Seed Al Kathiri crashed against the post.
Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, took the bold step of substituting both his strikers, Khalil and Mabkhout, just past the hour for the Al Wahda pair Mohammed Al Shehhi and Al Kathiri.
He acknowledged the substitutions broke the momentum, but insisted he wanted to provide playing opportunities to as many players as possible.
"We had the game under control and the substitutions didn't work as I would have wished," he said.
"The players were returning from a long break and I would reckon they would combine better for the next game.
"I think we still did well to hold our nerves and win, which was important."
Trinidad nearly pulled one back in added time of the first half when Radanfah Abu Bakr's header off a corner bounced in front of the goalmouth and ricocheted off the UAE defender Mohaned Salem's outstretched leg.
Kasheif leapt to collect the ensuing corner for the UAE to take a two-goal cushion at half time.
The Al Jazira keeper did well to stop a stinging low shot from Ataullah Guerra in the opening minute of the second half after a Mohammed Ahmed Gharib error.
The UAE were returning to action for the first time in more than five months and showed no rustiness.
At least, initially.
Mahdi Ali's men started confidently, keeping possession and control with their short passing game for a major part of the first half. They also kept close tabs on their opponents with a close marking game.
Trinidad and Tobago: - 21.Jan-Michael Williams, 6.Radanfah Abu Bakr, 12.Robert Primus, 3.Justin Hoyte, Aubrey David (4.Sheldon Bateau 52nd), 14.Andre Boucaud, 8.Khaleem Hyland (5.Kevan George 81st), 19.Lester Peltier, Ataullah Guerra (11.Willis Plaza 55th), Marcus Joseph (10.Kevin Molino 70th), 9.Kenwyne Jones (capt).
UAE: - Ali Khaseif (capt), Mohamed Ahmad (Saad Surour 68th), Mohanad Salem, Ismail Ahmed, Omar Abdulrahman, Abdelaziz Husain, Amer Abdulrahman (Majed Hassan 85th), Habib Fardan Abdualla, Khamis Esmail, Ahmed Khalil (Mohamed Al Shehhi 62nd), Ali Ahmed Mabkhout (Saeed Al Kathiri 62nd).
Final: - T&T 3 v UAE 3
Willis Plaza 56 Habib Fardan Abdualla 9
Kenwyne Jones 87-Pen Ali Ahmed Mabkhout 37
Kevin Molino 92 Ahmed Khalil 54
After Penalities: T&T 6 v UAE 7
Abu Bakr (Goal)
Highlights: - Trinidad & Tobago v UAE
Venue: - King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh.
Referee: - Fahad Al Oraini (Saudi Arabia).
Great fightback in Riyadh... But T&T fall 7-6 on pks.
By Shaun Fuentes (TTFA).
Trinidad and Tobago’s Senior men’s football team almost pulled off an amazing comeback victory in Riyadh on Thursday night but the misery of the “Lottery” kicks had the final say with the game ending in a 7-6 victory for the United Arab Emirates in the opening match of the 2013 OSN Cup at the King Fahd International Stadium.
The men in the Red created history by coming from three goals down to level the scores at 3-3 in added-on time to take the match into kicks from the penalty spot. T&T had never before come from three goals down in an international tournament. But Columbus Crew midfielder, a second half substitute, making his debut for T&T, saw his kick saved by goalkeeper Al Khaseif Housani resulting UAE ‘ passage into Sunday’s final.
T&T will now meet Saudi Arabia in Monday’s third place playoff after the hosts were beaten 1-0 by New Zealand in Thursday’s second match before a sparse but enthusiastic crowd at the Stadium.
The “Soca Warriors” recovered from a miserable start, trailing 2-0 at half time after goals by Ismail Mohamed, a free header in the 8th minute from a left side corner and a long range strike by Ali Ahmed Alhajeri in the 40th minute left UAE comfortably ahead.
Arriving in Riyadh just over twenty four hours ahead of kick off, T&T struggled to settle in the first half and playing in 42 degrees made it even tougher for skipper Kenwyne Jones and his teammates.
T&T did have its moments with right winger Lester Peltier making some dangerous runs on the flank and causing problems with his quick runs. At the start of the second half Jones went close to pulling a goal back but Emirates got a third goal which at that stage appeared to have been the final nail in T&T’s coffin.
Midfielder Omar Alamoudi was clearly UAE’s most dangerous player on the pitch and he played a clever ball into the box for Ahmed Aljunaibi to hit past Jan Michael Williams in the 54th to push UAE 3-0 in front.
Head coach Stephen Hart introduced Vietnam-based forward Willis Plaza in place of Ataullah Guerra who lined up alongside Racing Genk midfielder Khaleem Hyland and Andre Boucaud in the middle of the park.
Plaza, last appearing for T&T in the Caribbean Cup in December, found the target with his first touch of the ball in the 56th, sending a glancing header into the left of the net from Peltier’s right side cross. Plaza brought some added zest to T&T’s attack and the visitors began taking the game to the Emirates.
Orlando City midfielder Kevin Molino, arriving in Riyadh at 7am on the day, was thrown on by Hart and was unlucky to see his snap effort saved by Housani.
Soon after Jones stepped up to clinically convert a penalty kick in the 87th after Plaza was hacked down in the penalty box.
Molino, who had earlier replaced debutant Marcus Joseph, then completed the late comeback when he guided his header home from Robert Primus’ left side delivery a minute into added on time. Seed Al Kathiri almost stole soon after when his effort crashed off the woodwork.
The game headed straight into penalty kicks. Andre Boucaud missed his kick but Jones, Peltier, Radanfah Abu Bakr and Molino all converted for T&T inside the first five kicks.
Williams kept T&T in the game when he blocked Majed Alahmadi’s attempt. And after Willams made another good stop, Plaza had the task of scoring what would have been the winner but his tame effort was saved. Primus and Hoyte scored in sudden death before George missed the final attempt.
Hart: No easy feat to comeback from three down
Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart, though disappointed with a losing finish, commended his players for their courageous and determined showing in Thursday’s defeat to the United Arab Emirates.
Coming from three goals down is no easy feat and the display by Kenwyne Jones and his teammates must be acknowledged Hart felt.
“I’m pleased with the fact that we scored goals and we showed a desire to come back from 3-0 nothing. That in itself is something we can take from this game and build on,” Hart told TTFA Media.
“We knew the game would be difficult. I thought we were very sloppy in the first half both when in possession and particularly defensively,” Hart said.
“They created maybe three or four chances. We had a much better rhythm in the second half. Willis Plaza came on and did very well for us. He started to run behind and Peltier started to get behind also and we got ourselves back in the game and maybe could have even gone on to win it. Then of course anything was possible when it went to penalty kicks.
“My intention was not to play Kevin (Molino) because of his late travel but he was on the edge of his seat. And I thought he felt he looked like he had that kind of enthusiasm and passion to come off the bench and I gave him twenty minutes and he rewarded us with the tying goal.”
Jones was equally pleased with the effort.
“We didn’t have a good first half by any means but we did a lot better in the second half. We showed great fight to comeback and I don’t think this has ever happened in the history of the senior team, at least not for the past two decades or so. I think everyone from the staff to my teammates deserve credit for pulling off this kind of performance and comeback.
Unfortunately we lost out on penalty kicks but I think this was a performance and a match that we could feel good about and it shows some kind of progress with the National Team from the Gold Cup and that is the most important thing for us at this stage,” Jones said.