Ahmed Khalil will win the Gulf Cup's Golden Boot award in Bahrain after the UAE striker's two-goal blast against Oman on Friday night, according to a Saudi Arabia football legend.
Khalil, who replaced Ismail Matar in the 61st minute of the game, struck twice – in the 84th minute, which was the UAE's 100th goal in Gulf Cups, and the 87th – to send Oman home early and take the UAE into the semi-final with a 100 per cent record.
The two goals also took Khalil to the top of the list for the tournament's leading goalscorers alongside teammate Ali Mabkhout and Khalfan Ibrahim of Qatar, whose team have also been knocked out.
Saeed Al Owairan, whose goal against Belgium at the 1994 World Cup ranks sixth best in Fifa's Goal of the Century rankings, was impressed with the Al Ahli striker, who was named Asia's Youth Player of the Year in 2008 after leading the UAE to the Asian Under 19 Championships title.
"I expect Ahmed Khalil to win the competition for the top scorer of the tournament," Al Owairan, who was known as the "Maradona of the Arabs", told reporters in Manama. "He has got all the qualities that you see in top modern strikers.
"He is an intelligent player and blessed with very good physical fitness. But the most important quality is his positive attitude with the ball and his composure inside the box. These are all qualities that you see in the world's outstanding strikers.
"But if I could give him an advice, I would ask him to work on his game in the air."
Khalil would surely be pleased to hear these compliments from one of the biggest names in Arab football. Before his twin strikes against Oman, the 21 year old had been going through a torrid phase, low in confidence, as he struggled to break into the starting XI at his club.
Mahdi Ali and his teammates, however, never lost confidence in Khalil's abilities and the striker thanked them after his Oman show.
"I did not score in the first two games, but that was not a problem because I have confidence in my abilities," said Khalil, dedicating his two goals to the UAE fans who had travelled to Bahrain to support the team. "I also got a lot of support from our coach Mahdi Ali and all the other players in the team.
"My two goals against Oman are fruits of this support and the great efforts of the rest of the players."
Khalil has the backing of his teammates, too.
"We as players have always been confident in his abilities," said Mohammed Ahmed, the centre-back. "He has a long history of achievements, but was missing a bit of luck in recent times." Mahdi Ali also has great confidence in Khalil and persisted with the Ahli striker through his lean patch, always putting him in the starting XI.
"I spoke to Ahmed Khalil before the game and I told him he will be playing in the second half," Mahdi Ali said. "I also told him that he is a great player with a great future ahead."