Dubai: UAE coach Marcelo Mendes was left beaming with pride after his side booked their place in the semi-finals of the Third Samsung Beach Soccer Intercontinental Cup at the Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC) late on Wednesday.
The hosts followed up their opening-day 3-2 win over Morocco with a scrappy 3-1 victory against Mexico to follow Switzerland into the knockout semi-finals scheduled later on Friday. However, first they were to play Switzerland in their final Group A match to decide the leader.
“Two wins from as many matches indicates hard work. We’ve travelled at beach soccer tournaments around the world so that we could compete and learn by playing against the best. We did not go for a holiday. We were there doing a lot of hard work so that we could represent the UAE in a right manner. And tonight the results are there to prove this after we’ve won two very tough matches against two very tough teams,” Mendes told the media.
The experienced Ali Karim gave the UAE the lead in the very first minute with a grounder that made its way into the far corner of the net. But Mexico equalised with less than two minutes remaining through Ricardo Villalobos.
After a scoreless second period, the UAE scored twice within a minute with less than seven minutes remaining until the final whistle. First it was young Butti Hussain holding his nerve to convert from the penalty spot and then Kamal Ali headed past Miguel Estrada to secure second spot from Group A, leaving Thursday’s matches a mere formality to decide final pool placings.
“I am the coach and people need to understand that I work according to a plan. We travelled to Brazil last week and all these players got the opportunity to play against the best in the world at the Mundialito [de Clubes in Rio de Janeiro]. We did not go to Rio to see my family or on a holiday. It was meant to be a serious tournament because we can only improve our game by playing against the best. Sometimes the tactics and the technique may not be enough in deciding matches, and that is when the superior exposure comes handy,” Mendes said.
The UAE were due to play Switzerland in an inconsequential match later on Thursday with the winner taking top place and the right to meet the second team from Group B, while the loser will face the Group B winner.
The situation was more intense in Group B with Iran standing at the top with four points, while Brazil and defending champions Russia, who were tied on three points each, to decide the second spot following the encounter later on Thursday.