United Arab Emirates coach Srecko Katanec says his side are looking to the future after bowing out of the AFC Asian Cup with the only goals they scored own goals.
"Let's see the reality. We played in a very strong group. So it's nothing wrong," the Slovenian tactician said after three-time champions Iran beat them 3-0, crushing their faint hope of reaching the quarter-finals. "We played good football and that's it," he said. "We must put our heads up and work hard and this is our level today."
The UAE side, goalless after a draw with Korea DPR and a loss to holders Iraq, needed to overcome Iran to keep alive their thin mathematical chance of qualifying. But the hope was dashed after half-time as Katanec learned that Korea DPR were not likely to beat Iraq, another condition to the UAE's qualifying.
"I decided then to give some chance to some young players and Iran won," said the 47-year-old, who took his native Slovenia to UEFA EURO 2000 and the 2002 FIFA World Cup™. "I wanted to see see if they can play at this level because we were already out."
Iran, bidding to end a 35-year title drought, played with a second-string side in the first half and put themselves at full strength after half-time to open the scoring through Arash Afshin on 70 minutes. Mohammad Nori doubled the score 13 minutes later before a luckless Walid Abbas scored a second stoppage-time own goal in as many games.
"Sometimes, football is very strange," mused Katanec about the lack of finishing power of his side. He noted they attempted 23 shots against Korea DPR, 17 against Iraq and 16 against Iran without scoring. Iran made only three shots on goal against the Emirate side.
"We were really without five percent of luck. So incredible. We scored own goals," said Katanec. "Physically we are not in the same level as Iraqi, Iranian and [North] Korean players. In the third game, most of the players will get physical problems. Many of our players were tired."
He noted that the Iraq and Iran teams were way ahead with players who ply their trade in top leagues, including at European clubs. "They are much stronger. So you must play fast and move the ball fast against them and this is not easy."
Katanec, who took charge in June 2009 after three years with Macedonia, said his squad would refocus for the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers starting this year. "We'll wait for the draw for the World Cup in March," he said. "In this tournament I think nobody knows how it will be."