The quarterfinal match between Japan and UAE was never going to boast on the defensive structure of either teams. However, it was about to feature two exhilarating attacks who had scored 13 goals between them.
UAE’s last minute loss to Iran in the group stage meant playing the current titleholders in the quarterfinals. The Emiratis were not particularly thrilled by the decision but they were ready to face them being the only Khaleeji team making it this far in the tournament. For the UAE, a game against Japan was going to be a true test considering their lack of opportunities to play East Asian teams in friendly matches. Their opponents normally tend to be from around the Western Asian region.
For the bookmakers, this was an easy bet; the only trouble being able to judge the score line the Japanese would win this by. They have had an easy going in the group stages winning all three goals and conceding none. Yet, something was missing. But for the Samurai Blue, this was just another step towards their attempt at a fifth Asian Cup trophy. For this game, they understood the need to stop UAE’s prolific midfielder – Omar Abdul Rahman.
It was the Emiratis that came out strong with the man with fastest goal in the tournament giving UAE the lead. Ali Mabkhout brilliantly collected Amer Abdul Rahman’s accurate long ball with the outside of his boot on the initial touch. The second touch resulted in a well-rounded cannonball past Kawashima’s goal. Apart from an attempt from Mabkhout in the 50th minute, the UAE attack were never threatening, instead maintaining a strong defensive arrangement. The consistency in the back suggested that this approach was working which irritated their opponents.
That is until the 81st minute when substitute Shibasaki struck of a one-touch pass from outside the box, giving the Japanese the equalizer, they were looking for. They came significantly close at several occasions in the dying minutes but could not finish, taking the game into extra-time.
This match would eventually be decided on a penalty shoot-out. Omar Abdul Rahman decided to go for the fancy attempting and successfully converting a panenka, which would make even legendary Andrea Pirlo proud. The most reliable person for the Japanese – Kagawa had missed his opportunity in the shoot-out eventually leading to Emiratis snatching the victory away from their feet.
It was momentous event for the Emiratis to beat a team like Japan in a tournament like the Asian Cup. Reaching the semifinals meant valid global credentials to their performances. Winning against Japan was as tough as it gets in Asia but a win against the hosts could help elevate UAE football to the next level.