Ooh aah..c’est ooh aah, c’est UAE y’naagh

This, I know, is the football news everyone was waiting for.

Never mind Spain dumping out Italy on penalties – a welcome result, so far as Salut! Sunderland is concerned though Spain’s first half performance was enough to drive me to bed (we kick off at 10.45pm) – or Ronaldo preparing to announce his preference between Old Trafford, the Estadio Santiago Bernabé and the Stadium of Light.

My adopted home country, the United Arab Emirates, fought their way through to the final round of the 2010 World Cup Asian Zone qualifiers last night.

Did they do it in style, sweeping to an emphatic 4-0 victory over Syria in the match played at Abu Dhabi’s second city, Al Ain? Did they come back from behind to snatch the points in injury time? Or did they at least tough it out in a dour 0-0 draw that was nevertheless enough to ensure further progress towards South Africa?

Er, no. They got beat 3-1.

But a penalty by one Ismail Matar (seen in the YouTube clip) 10 minutes from the end meant that the UAE avoided defeat by the three-goal margin that would have sent them out. Matar’s goal made it 2-1, but the UAE still contrived to concede a third goal to ensure some nervous last seconds.

It does not augur well for the next phase. In a column for our newspaper, The National, the Oman and Bolton keeper Ali al Habsi correctly predicted yesterday that the UAE would go through, though he also thought they would do so by beating Syria. But he did nothing to raise hopes that the Emirates would proceed to win a place in the 2010 finals.

“They have good players and a good manager in Bruno Metsu,” he wrote. “But I just don’t think they are better than teams like Japan, Australia and South Korea.”

Salut! Sunderland will proudly do its duty and record the outcome of that uphill battle, whether or not its suggested chant – in the headline, and inspired by the old Eric Roy one – takes off.

* Life in Abu Dhabi can be hard. I can cope with the army of tiny ants that have invaded the kitchen, making patterns on the floor and disgusting a chic French cat more accustomed to the lizards and cigalles of the Var. I am even ready to brave the ferocious heat of high summer in the Gulf. But can someone tell me what I have done to deserve having a perfectly respectable Sunderland coffee mug emerge from the dishwasher in black and white?

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