The UAE confirmed their place in the semi-finals of the Gulf Cup with a battling 2-1 win over Bahrain at a packed National Stadium in Manama last night.
Ali Mabkhout, the four-goal hero of the UAE’s 6-2 win over Bahrain in a friendly last year, opened the scoring in the 40th minute, but Abdulwahab Al Malood brought the hosts back into the game with his 75th minute equaliser.
Majed Hassan, however, booked UAE’s ticket in the last four with his winner five minutes from time.
Mahdi Ali, the UAE coach, said: “First we have to congratulate Bahrain, who played a great match. It was clear that it was a tough match for us, but in the circumstances it was good that we managed to win so late on.
“To still win this match when not playing at our best level is a credit to the team.”
Mabkhout said he was delighted with his goal and praised the spirit of his teammates after they conceded the equaliser.
He also said that he never lost faith in himself or the team after several missed chances. He said: “It’s normal, it happens that you miss one or two chances but the important thing is we still had the confidence to get back and score after Bahrain had equalised.”
After their impressive performance in the 3-1 win over Qatar in their first game, the UAE were keen on matching that show.
But as the two Abdulrahmans – Omar and Amer – stood on the ball at kick-off, with noisy home fans packing the stadium in the foreground, the task did not seem so simple. Bahrain, held scoreless by Oman in their opening game, were desperate for a win.
The UAE did not back down.
Ahmed Khalil, who looked a little rusty on Saturday, showed a lot more energy, making a swift dash in the opening minute and then testing the Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Mohammed Jaffer with a header in the seventh minute.
Khalil had again got the nod ahead over Ismail Matar as Mahdi Ali decided to start with the same XI that took to the pitch against Qatar. The UAE coach was, however, to bring Matar in for Ismail Al Hammadi in the 28th minute after a tackle by Sami Mohammed four minutes earlier had left the Al Ahli winger in discomfort.
The forced change did not affect UAE’s tempo though and after a few close calls, Mabkhout put them ahead with a typically blistering dash.
The lone White shirt in the opposition half, he made Rashid Khalil pay for his lapse when the defender's header went astray. The Al Jazira striker sprinted in and then wove his way around Abdullah Al Marzooqi's attempted sliding tackle to slot the ball home.
Mabkhout had a great opportunity to make it 2-0 in the 49th minute when Ahmed Khalil set him up with a wonderful cross, but the 21 year old failed to control his volley.
The let off mean Bahrain’s dream of winning their first Gulf Cup title was still alive and they fought hard to achieve that goal.
Their efforts almost bore fruits in the 61st minute, but the goalkeeper Ali Khasief and Abdulaziz Sanqoor combined to block Ismail Abdul-latif’s twin efforts.
The Bahrain substitute Jaycee John then had a great opportunity in the 74th minute when he muscled his way past Khasief and Hamdan Al Kamali, but with an empty goal beckoning he was dispossessed by Mohammed Ahmed.
Seconds later, however, Ahmed could only watch as Al Malood placed the ball through Khasief’s legs as the UAE were made to pay for an untidy back-pass.
Bahrain should have taken the lead in the 79th minute but John, with only Khasief to beat, missed the target. In the frantic closing minutes, as Bahrain searched for a winner, Omar Abdulrahman’s magical work at the edge of the box eventually led to the substitute Hassan blasting a rebound back into the net.
After the game the Al Ain playmaker Abdulrahman got a ride on the shoulders of Khasief as the team celebrated their hard-earned win with the visiting fans.