Day Five at Toulon saw Group A come to an end with a dramatic final round, which saw Holland scrape into the Semi Finals by the finest of margins.
The Stade Saunier in Saint-Cyr was used for the first time in the tournament as Argentina met the UAE, and in doing so chose to give some of their squad players a start ahead of Wednesday’s Semi Finals. The Emirates needed to better the Dutch result from their match in Le Lavandou against the Egyptians, and started well, almost scoring after just fourteen seconds. A cross from the right caused problems, but after a little panic Argentina dealt with the situation and cleared the ball.
The South Americans’ new-look attack featuring Gerardo Bruna and Lucas Trecarichi alongside captain for the day Alejandro Gomez looked good in approach play but were lacking in final product, especially against a physically stronger defence. The UAE were tenacious and worked hard, and were rewarded with openings of their own, most notably through Ahmed Al Junaibi, who turned his man inside the area and found himself with a tight-angled shot which he hit well, but only rattled the makeshift fencing behind the goal.
Midfield general and captain Hamdan Al Kamali was pulling most of the strings for the Middle Easterns, and had a few notable set piece moments, the best of which came just before half time. His initial attempt hit the wall and rebounded back to him, at which point he picked the ball up and drove a 30-yard effort towards goal which was moving and drew a nice save from Esteban Espindola. The half time whistle was more of a relief to the Argentines, whilst it gave the Emiratis a chance to hear good news from elsewhere.
Egypt may have had the hardest ask, needing a win and an Emirati defeat. A match which was at times end-to-end swung the way of the Africans on 13 minutes with a goal from Moustafa Selim, who had a very impressive first half. A through ball in behind released the number eleven, who used his pace to skip around the advancing Mulder and regain his composure to slot away from a very tight angle.
It was nearly 2-0 when a fantastic long-range effort from Sayed Hassan crashed off the underside of the crossbar and came back out. The resulting melee saw a clear foul on the Egyptian forward following it in but the referee waved play on. Holland went down the other end and had a chance of their own to equalise, Donovan Deekman’s cross appearing to cause problems before it all eventually came to nothing. Unfortunately, for all Egypt’s endeavours, their position at half time wasn’t good, as the UAE’s point against Argentina was enough to put them through as it stood.
It got worse for them five minutes into the second half when the UAE took the lead. Good approach play from Theyab Al Musabi got him to the touchline, where he was able to pull the ball back to the far post and present the diminutive Sultan Al Menhali a tap-in which he gleefully accepted. They were then able to keep possession, knocking the ball around and looking the better team with Argentina struggling to even control the ball on an awkward pitch. But, such is football, they drew level with a fabulous solo goal from Lucas Trecarichi.
Sevilla’s left footed forward picked the ball up on the half way line and beat two men, finding space 30 yards out. He tried to pass to German Pacheco but the attempt was blocked, deflecting the ball back to Trecarichi. He carried on his way to the edge of the area before drilling low across the goalkeeper into the bottom corner. Nonetheless, with the situation unchanged elsewhere, the UAE still held the second spot in Group A, albeit with a slightly weaker grip now. In the other match, Holland were turning the screw, looking to grab the goal which would put them through to the Semi Finals. A defensive mistake allowed the Oranje in, but the Africans were able to scramble the cutback clear in desperate circumstances.
As the UAE/Argentina match became scrappy with neither team wanting to make a mistake, the Egypt/Holland game opened right up with both teams desperate to make the knockout round. Holland’s pressure finally told as Deekman, making amends for a sitter of a miss earlier, grabbed an equaliser with just over ten minutes to go. Diego Biseswar was the architecht, playing a neat one-two before sliding Deekman in down the right, and he kept his composure to finally find the back of the net. With Holland in the driver’s seat for the Semi Finals, the UAE were beginning to struggle under Argentinian pressure. Pacheco worked himself into space for a chance on 68 minutes, but he was unable to put technique on the ball and simply prodded it for an easy save.
Daryl Janmaat went close for Holland, and tempers boiled over in Saint-Cyr. A scrappy incident saw four yellow cards dished out, and from the following set piece, Abdulaziz Al Balooshi was sent off for an off the ball incident with Alejandro Gomez, who had just been involved in an alleged elbow incident with Al Kamali. What the tempestrous Emiratis didn’t know however was that their lack of discipline was putting them in danger of elimination, with them needing a goal. Deekman and Ricky van Wolfswinkel both found themselves with excellent chances, but got in the way of eachother and instead of scoring allowed the Egyptian goalkeeper to make two fine saves.
It was a key moment, because sixty seconds later the Dutch got out of jail when Ibrahim had a goal disallowed. The full time whistle ended their game 1-1, but there was to be some extended stoppage time in the Argentinian game, to leave a tense ending to the group. The ten men were holding on, perhaps knowing their point was good enough to see them through, but benefitted from a wasteful finish from Bruna when a cross would have been the better choice. Both teams were content with a point, which many believed was enough to see the UAE into the Semi Finals on goal difference. However, confusion reigned and the rules – which aren’t apparently available – dictate that the first tiebreaker is the head-to-head record of the teams. Therefore, by virtue of van Wolfswinkel’s winner against the UAE on Friday, the Dutch advance. Just.