Gulf Cup of Nations: UAE star Ali Mabkhout promises more fireworks against Iraq

Striker scored all three goals during win over Yemen in tournament opener

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Ali Mabkhout has vowed to continue to fire his side’s Gulf Cup of Nations bid after opening his account with a hat-trick against Yemen on Tuesday night.

The striker, who last month became his country’s all-time leading scorer, notched all three goals in the 3-0 victory in Doha to kick-start the national team’s attempt at a third regional crown.

The treble secured for Bert van Marwijk’s side the perfect start to Group A, and took Mabkhout’s recent record with the side to nine goals in his past four matches. The UAE next take on Iraq on Friday, who began their campaign on Tuesday with a hugely impressive 2-1 victory against hosts Qatar.

“I promise to make even more efforts in the coming matches, although Iraq will not be easy, as was shown in their victory against a strong opponent in the first game,” Mabkhout said. “Everyone must focus more and work together to make the UAE fans happy.

“The most important thing for the team is the victory and getting the three points, regardless of who scores.”

Mabkhout’s hat-trick carried him to 11 Gulf Cup goals overall, lifting him one above former forward Fahad Khamis to become the UAE’s lead scorer in the competition. The Al Jazira frontman, who started 2022 World Cup qualification with six goals in three matches, emphasised the team’s contribution to his rich vein of form.

“Every player aspires to accomplish personal achievements, and I’m very happy to reach this number,” Mabkhout said. “But the team is the priority. Only with their support am I able to score the goals.”

The UAE will wait to discover if Hamdan Al Kamali will be available for Friday, with the defender unable to complete the match against Yemen through injury. The national team’s back-line had enjoyed a pretty comfortable night on Tuesday, with Yemen offering little threat.

However, they expect a tougher examination against Iraq, three-time winners of the tournament, whose success against Asian champions Qatar surprised somewhat.

Van Marwijk, though, does not believe the match will have any bearing on Friday’s encounter at the Khalifa International Stadium.

“The result of that game has no impact on the team; we deal with each game separately,” the Dutchman said. “The match between the UAE and Iraq will be different.”

On the promising start against Yemen, Van Marwijk added: “Our team has performed well in all the different positions, and the players have carried out what we asked of them. We could have scored more than three goals had it not been for missed opportunities.”