UAE halfway through gruelling mission after World Cup qualifying win over Thailand

Van Marwijk's side make it two victories on trot as goals from Canedo, De Lima and Juma Eid seal 3-1 win in Dubai

Halfway through this gruelling and at-first grave two-week push for progression, and the UAE are halfway there.

Halfway to fulfilling Bert van Marwijk’s wish, 50 per cent of the UAE’s second-round qualification needs sated. After two matches of the four in this 13-day World Cup window, the UAE have two wins, building on last Thursday’s thrashing of Malaysia by defeating Thailand – just about – in Dubai on Monday.

If Malaysia showcased the national team’s newfound attacking verve, albeit belatedly, they displayed their mettle upon their return to the Zabeel Stadium.

Forced to stand firm, the UAE emerged 3-1 winners. They remain second in Group G, two points behind Vietnam, although with an extra match to contest. After Indonesia on Friday, they face the frontrunners early next week. Both play out in Dubai.

The UAE's latest triumph came courtesy of Caio Canedo and Fabio De Lima, the naturalised duo, and an injury-time settler from Mohammed Juma Eid, a second-half substitute. All concerned will hope for more comfortable nights.

The opener came from Canedo, the Brazil-born forward marking his first competitive start for his adopted country in emphatic fashion.

After the Thailand defence could not deal properly with a cross, the forward combined firm focus and tidy technique to send his volley bouncing beyond Siwarak Tedsungnoen in the opposition goal. Canedo, clearly delighted, was included in the line-up following Khalil Ibrahim’s injury. It took him fourteen minutes to repay Van Marwijk’s faith.

Before that, though, the UAE survived a scare. Bandar Al Ahbabi undercooked his back-pass and, just as goalkeeper Ali Kasheif took a swipe to clear, he seemed to connect with Supachok Sarachat. The referee waved away Thailand’s protests. In truth, they weren’t exactly full-blooded.

Not long after Canedo’s opener, the UAE breathed another heavy sigh of relief. A dangerous ball across goal caused panic, only for Ekanit Panya to blaze over. To be fair, the angle was narrowing fast.

It seemed to spark the UAE into action. First, Ali Mabkhout sent a centre just out of reach of teammates, then fired wide having raced along the left touchline.

On 27 minutes, he broke free, latching onto a defensive error. Yet, for once, the UAE’s all-time leading scorer fluffed his lines, unable to flick the ball over the fast-approaching Tedsungnoen.

Within six minutes, the UAE had their cushion. Al Ahbabi’s cross was nodded goalward by De Lima, somehow evading the Thai goalkeeper to nestle in the net. It took the Brazil-born attacker's recent tally to three; De Lima struck twice, on his competitive bow, last Thursday.

The second half began at lightening speed. Minutes in, Mahmoud Khamis had to be alert at a corner to divert Sarachat’s goal-bound header from creeping inside the UAE upright. At the other end, Tedsungnoen acrobatically tipped Al Ahbabi’s free-kick onto the crossbar.

Then, in what felt a flash, Thailand pulled one back. The UAE only half-cleared a corner and the ball looped back to Suphanat Mueanta, who volleyed past a rooted Kasheif. The hosts momentarily rattled, Thailand had more than 35 minutes to claw back the game.

The UAE attempted the weather the storm, their counterparts suddenly looking fitter and fresher, and almost restored their advantage 15 minutes from time, when Mabkhout ran through. Again, though, the striker couldn’t capitalise. Immediately after, De Lima side-footed wide with only Tedsungnoen to beat.

There was still worse to come, Mabkhout inexplicably heading wide when unmarked from Al Ahbabi’s expert cross. The frontman held his head in his hands; Van Marwijk, now increasingly more animated on the sideline, did the same to his.

Ditto in the dying moments, when Juma Eid found himself staring down Tedsungnoen. Given almost no time to think, he hoisted his shot inches over the goal.

To his credit, he soon made amends, this time keeping cool when rolled in by Mabkhout. The game was over, the relief palpable. At the same time, over Sheikh Zayed Road at Al Maktoum Stadium, Vietnam were seeing off bottom side Indonesia.

And so it rumbles on, match two from four put to bed, six points gleaned from six. After a frantic evening in Dubai, progression to the third and final round remains in UAE hands.

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