Hosts UAE upset defending champions Australia on Friday night to book a place in the Asian Cup semi-final.
The home side, who came into the match at Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium as underdogs, triumphed 1-0 in the last-eight encounter, when Ali Mabkhout capitalised on a Milos Degenek mistake midway through the second half. Ultimately the winner, it marked Mabkhout’s fourth goal of the tournament.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s men now face Qatar on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi for a spot in what would be only the second Asian Cup final in the UAE’s history.
In front of a boisterous 25,000 crowd, the UAE should have taken the lead right on half-time. Ismail Matar’s free-kick was flicked on by substitute Khalifa Al Hammadi but, yards out from goal, Mabkhout headed over.
The ball had come quickly at the Al Jazira striker, yet it represented the best chance of the opening 45 minutes.
Earlier, as the UAE began brightly, when Ismail Al Hammadi fired straight at Mat Ryan following a swift counter.
Australia grew into the game from then and asserted control, with Apostolos Giannou forcing a decent save from rival goalkeeper Khalid Essa.
Just after the hour, Australia forward Giannou had a goal disallowed for offside; replays showed substitute Mathew Leckie, who supplied the knockdown, had just about strayed beyond the UAE defence.
Then, on 68 minutes, Mabkhout struck. A long goal-kick from Essa wasn’t dealt with by the Australian defence, prompting Degenek to pass back the ball blindly to Ryan. However, Mabkhout stole in to round the goalkeeper and tap home. The stadium erupted.
From there, the UAE defended stoutly as Australia pushed for an equaliser. The country’s first final since their runner-up finish in 1996 moved one step closer.