UAE suffer opening defeat to Bahrain in Arabian Gulf Cup

Rodolfo Arruabarrena's team lose 2-1 in Basra and face uphill battle to progress from Group B

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The UAE began their quest for a third Arabian Gulf Cup crown with a dispiriting 2-1 defeat to holders Bahrain in Basra on Saturday night.

The national team, seeking to emulate the successful sides of 2007 and 2013, were beaten at Al Minaa Stadium by second-half goals from Komail Al Aswad and Jassim Al Shaikh. UAE substitute Sebastian Tagliabue halved the deficit in injury-time with a fine header.

The UAE, who have not included in the squad in Iraq all-time leading goalscorer Ali Mabkhout, next face Kuwait on Tuesday as they bid to get their Group B campaign started.

Against Bahrain, the UAE dominated the opening 30 minutes, with forward Ali Saleh dragging wide his shot on five minutes and left-back Khalid Ibrahim curling an effort not long after directly at goalkeeper Sayed Mohammed Jaffer.

In the 18th minute, Abdullah Ramadan fired a fierce drive over the Bahrain crossbar, before Jaffer had to palm away a Saleh free-kick deep from the left.

However, Bahrain still created the best chance of the first half, when on 35 minutes Abdullah Yousef Helal flicked on a deflected cross to Ali Madan.

Stationed at the back post, and only a couple of yards from goal, Madan’s effort was blocked brilliantly by UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa.

Essa was called into action again four minutes later, although Helal’s header did not really trouble him.

The UAE started the second half the better team, but it was Bahrain took the lead right on the hour. Al Dhanhani fouled Madan, leaving midfielder Al Aswad to bend home a free-kick from 20 yards out. His left-footed effort appeared to take a nick off UAE midfielder Majed Hassan in the wall, taking the ball beyond Essa.

Bahrain's Kamil Al Aswad celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates. Reuters

Bahrain, who defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final in 2019, made safe the victory 12 minutes from time, Al Shaikh sweeping home a shot from the edge of the UAE penalty area. The Bahrain midfielder had been granted too much time and space to size up his effort.

Manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena made a number of changes to try to rescue the match, but Bahrain always looked dangerous on the break. They went close once more, when left-back Sayed Dhiya showed great footwork in the box only to pull wide his shot with the goal at his mercy.

Then, in the second minute of injury-time, Tagliabue met Harib Abdallah’s in-swinging cross from the right to send a powerful header in off the post. Some way out, it was an excellent goal.

Moments later, Tagliabue glanced another header off-target.

Given the opening defeat, the UAE will need to rebound quickly, with Kuwait in three days’ time before they round off the group against Qatar on January 13. Only the top two sides from the pool progress to the semi-finals.

Updated: January 07, 2023, 5:15 PM