The UAE confirmed their status as one of the favourites for the Gulf Cup title in Bahrain with a commanding 3-1 win over Qatar.
Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout gave the UAE a 2-1 lead going into the break after Khalfan Ibrahim had put Qatar ahead in the 11th minute from the penalty spot. Mohammed Ahmed headed in the UAE's third in the second half and they could have scored more, but for a resolute performance by Qasem Burhan in the Qatar goal.
The Emiratis play Bahrain next, on January 8 before completing their group engagements against Oman three days later. Those two teams played out a drab goalless draw earlier in the day and on current form, the UAE should have few troubles booking their place in the semis from the group.
Qatar, who are missing some key player this tournament due to injuries, took an early lead when the referee pointed to the spot after Khalfan Ibrahim was brought down by a sliding Mohammed Ahmed on the edge of the box. The 2006 Asian Player of the Year converted to open the scores.
Two minutes later, however, Omar Abdulrahman levelled the scores for the UAE off a free-kick from just outside the box, chipping the ball over the defence wall into the left corner.
Mabkhout then made it 2-1 in the 28th minute, finishing off his own cross that Khalil had almost given away to a Qatari defender. The Al Jazira striker, who has been in great form this season, rushed in to volley home the rebound.
A goal up, the UAE started dictating the pace of the game, but Hassan Al Haidos almost equalised for Qatar in the 39th minute with a side volley that pierced the crowded box; it missed the mark by a whisker.
The Whites maintained their control in the second half as well and Omar Abdulrahman almost added the third in the 49th minute, but the Burhan did well to keep the ball out.
Four minutes later, the diminutive Al Ain playmaker earned a free-kick just outside the Qatari box, but Amer Abdulrahman floated it just over the bar.
Burhan was outstanding again in the 60th minute, diving to keep Ismail Al Hammadi's shot out following a quickly taken free-kick by Amer Abdulrahman.
The UAE's domination eventually paid off in the 66th minute when Mohammed Ahmed muscled his way past the Qatar defenders to head in Omar Abdulrahman's corner.
Ahmed Khalil should have made it 4-1 in the 72nd minute after being set in the clear by Omar Abdulrahman, but with only the goalkeeper ahead, he shot meekly into Burhan.