UAE see off Yemen to keep 2026 World Cup qualification bid on course

Saleh and Adil on target as Bento's side make it three wins from three in Group H

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Returning to action after an inadequate Asian Cup campaign, the UAE at least picked up 2026 World Cup qualification where they left off.

Paulo Bento’s side saw off Yemen on Thursday night in Abu Dhabi, even if it really should have been by a greater margin than 2-1. Even if, really, they made more arduous work of the encounter than was needed.

Ali Saleh opened the scoring from the spot midway through the first half at Al Nahyan Stadium, while Sultan Adil got in on the act at a similar juncture in the second. In between, though, Yemen profited from an Abdullah Idris own goal, to temporarily draw level. For a moment, the UAE feared an upset.

Nevertheless, the win maintained the national team’s 100 per cent record at the halfway point of this second round. They perch at the summit of Group H, the Yemen triumph supplementing twin victories last November against Nepal and Bahrain.

Indeed, should the UAE dispatch Yemen in the corresponding fixture in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday – at present, Yemen cannot host matches – they will book their place in the all-important third round with two games to spare.

On Thursday, in front of a surprisingly sparse crowd in the capital, the UAE had struck the woodwork via Yahya Al Ghassani’s flicked header before Saleh stroked home his penalty on 24 minutes.

Zayed Sultan, introduced seconds before for the injured Ahmed Jamil, was ruled to have been felled by Yemen’s Mohammed Al Wajih. Saleh made little mistake, sending Yemen goalkeeper Abdullah Al Saadi the wrong way. Sporting the No 7 shirt and anointed the UAE’s penalty taker in Ali Mabkhout’s headline-making absence, it felt eerily familiar.

Yet, to their credit, Yemen started the second half the brighter. Captain Abdulwasea Al Matari forced UAE counterpart Khalid Essa into action with a dipping shot from range. The visitors then had a decent penalty shout waved away.

At the other end, Al Ghassani sent another effort against the upright. This time, the Shabab Al Ahli winger’s curler from the edge of the Yemen area cannoned back off the far post. Al Saadi didn't even move.

On 69 minutes, he raced from his line in celebration. Yemen substitute Omar Al Dahi whipped in a free-kick from the right and Idris inadvertently whacked it past Essa.

However, as Yemen dreamt of a shock result, the UAE seized it from their grasp. Only three minutes had passed when Adil met Tahnoun Al Zaabi’s corner with a thumping header.

The teenager, whose Asian Cup was cruelly cut short by injury, has now scored in his past three international appearances. At 19, and favoured over all-time leading goalscorer Mabkhout, he strengthened his case as the UAE’s principal frontman.

With the win, his side reinforced their route to the third round. There will be more taxing nights, and performances will no doubt need to improve, but ultimately, it was job done.

Updated: March 21, 2024, 8:53 PM