Gulf Cup: Ali Mabkhout in red-hot form now

The most meaningful long-term development in the UAE's 2-1 victory on Tuesday night is the continued rich vein of form shown by Ali Mabkhout, the Al Jazira striker.

Majed Hassan will be the name attached to the victory over Bahrain that sent the UAE to the semi-finals of the Gulf Cup. A 20-year-old midfielder with two goals for Al Ahli in 59 matches? For him to drive the winner into the roof of the goal in the waning minutes is a great story.

But the most meaningful long-term development in the 2-1 victory is the continued rich vein of form shown by Ali Mabkhout, the Al Jazira striker.

Six months ago, even three, to mention the name "Ali Mabkhout" to a UAE fan was to elicit a grimace and a description something like: "Creates chances, never takes them."

Mahdi Ali took Mabkhout to the Olympics, but more with the hope that in the distant future he would wake up and finish a few of his many opportunities.

The light went on three months ago. How these things happen, no one knows, but Mabkhout rang up four goals in a 6-2 friendly rout of Bahrain and, soon after, he displaced the Brazilian Fernandinho in the Jazira line-up, and began piling up goals for his club, too - six in five league games to conclude the first half of the season.

He still is scoring; two in two games in the Gulf Cup. Tuesday night, he made a dash up the left side, ran on to a ball that glanced off the head of a defender, and instead of knocking it into the stands, he controlled it, pushed it past a sliding defender and banged the ball inside the near post as if he had been doing it all his life - rather than just for the past dozen games. The UAE has a red-hot forward; just not the one the country would have suspected.

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