A spiteful divide continues to exist among the relatively complex relationship between Iran and the UAE. Why?
It is a question I have asked before at several occasions, and for some reason, it all points to the disputed islands of Abu Musa (lying between the two countries on the Arabian Gulf).
This difference in opinion had somehow trickled onto the football pitch. Football in UAE had seen many Iranians flourish in the past with the likes of Ali Daei, Khodadad Azizi, Karim Bagheri and Ali Karimi, among the many, bracing the league. But in recent years, not even a single Iranian athlete had participated in the Arabian Gulf League. In 2013, Javad Nekounam’s expected $2 million transfer to Sharjah Club was blocked by Iranian authorities due to issues with the renaming of the UAE league to the “Arabian Gulf League”.
Iran had always insisted on calling the body of water between the Persian and Arabian Peninsula’s as the “Persian Gulf” based on historical evidences. In fact they had also renamed their football league as the Persian Gulf League. Simply viewing the only patch of green on the island of Abu Musa, will explain the seriousness of the matter.
Back to the game, though both teams had qualified towards the knockout stages, based on the above narrative, any bout between the two would always hold a significance. A win against the Iranians would be accepted as a boost to egos, not only in the UAE but also across the region.
Before the two stepped onto the pitch, the Emiratis were the only Khaleeji team remaining in the competition. The Iranians did not entertain till date, but roped in consistency from the players against Bahrain and Qatar.
UAE had made couple of changes to their starting eleven, with defender Hamdan Al Kamali and midfielder Mohammed Abdul Rahman being replaced by Mohanad Salem El Enezi and Habib Fardan, respectively.
It was Iran who started off the match on the front foot with their high tempo style of play. Both teams had their opportunities with Iranians coming close to Maged Nasser’s goal in numerous occasions. But none could break the deadlock as the momentum carried on till the 90th minute when the ever-so resolute defending of the Emiratis could not do anything but watch a Dejagah corner cleared by Mohamed Ahmed on to the path of Teymourian who crossed it back in towards the goal. Reza Ghoochannejhad, who was lurking around the keeper, did enough to flick it past the keeper taking Iran to the top of the table and a possible clash against Iraq in the knock-out stage.
But there were a few positives from the Emiratis game; the introduction of the Al Ain man in the back four had helped the defensive structure of the squad. El Enezi was strong in the air and was consistently delivering well-timed tackles. They even looked confident on the ball. Initially, it would have been questionable on why Habib Fardan was in the starting eleven, however it all made sense. The Al Ahli midfielder put in a shift on both ends of the field with his main trait being the ability to track back.
Omar Abdul Rahman had already put his stamp on this tournament. His performances against Iran was no different as he provided a remedy to sore eyes. The ability to hold the ball, skip past quick attacks while in possession and envision the movement of his teammates before they actually make the move was incredible.
Critics will doubtlessly respond that this is exactly what the team needs when they face the Asian fortress of Japan, but more is needed offensively. Both Khalil and Mabkhout barely presented themselves to the midfield, which translates into the lack of shots on goal. Both will need to step up if they intend to trouble their Japanese counterparts.
For Iran, it will be a recognized foe as both faced off each other in the warm-up to the Cup, with Iran winning the match by a goal. They can only hope that their streak of wins continues.