With one minute left on the clock, local supporters who turned up to watch the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 Group A encounter between UAE and Brazil at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi were already trooping out of the stands. It was at this moment that UAE forward Mohamed Al Akberi played a long ball forward to striker Zayed Al Ameri, who broke through the Brazilian back line and fired past keeper Marcos.
Al Ameri might not have seemed too thrilled with his efforts, but the supporters celebrated the goal gleefully despite a 6-1 score-line that severely dented the hosts’ hopes of progressing further. This second successive loss, hard on the heels of their opening night defeat to Honduras, threatened to ensure that UAE would be watching the rest of the tournament from the sidelines.
Futile it may have been, but Al Ameri’s last-gasp goal places him firmly in the record books. As the ball hit the back of the net, the promising young forward became the first UAE player of any age group to score against Brazil. When FIFA.com asked him what he felt about his achievement, Al Ameri was in two minds: “It’s amazing to have scored against Brazil and to be the first Emirati to do so. But at the same time, I don’t feel any different. I’m not happy because we lost so badly.”
One reason for the No16’s mixed feeling may be that he did not start against Brazil, but came on as a substitute at the start of the second half. Added to the fact that he only played two minutes against Honduras, one cannot help suspecting he wishes he had been given more time to prove himself on the pitch.
But Al Ameri, the youngest player in the UAE team, was suitably diplomatic: “That decision is made by the coach and the coaching staff. They have given me so much confidence by including me in the squad, and that confidence is a huge incentive for me to perform as well as I can.”
Terror from the bench
Last season brought Al Ameri 18 goals in 22 appearances for club side Al Jazira SCC and the national team, but he remained clear about his role: “For me, it doesn’t matter whether I start or come off the bench. When I run out in the second half I try to make something of every chance and to use my speed and fitness to put pressure on my opponents’ tired legs.”
Asked whether his record-breaking goal might be a boost in his own career, he answered modestly: “I have to work to ensure I do better for my club Al Jazira, and with time things will get better for me. I certainly want to have an excellent footballing career.”
In their final Group A game at UAE 2013, the hosts will face Slovakia. The Europeans only have a single point from their opening two games, and so both sides will be searching for their first win, which would leave them with a slender chance of going through should other results go in their favour.
Despite the pressure, Al Ameri was confident that his team have what it takes to snatch the three points: “We beat Slovakia 3-1 in a friendly during the run-up to this tournament and we can certainly beat them again, if only to satisfy our supporters. We hope that they will come out and back us yet again.”
Al Ameri’s cites Brazilian legend Ronaldo as his greatest inspiration, and the two goals that he put past Slovakia in their pre-tournament friendly seems to have given him something of his hero’s self-belief. He will be hoping to repeat the feat this Wednesday and bring down the curtain on UAE’s Group A campaign with a first win.