UAE beat Bahrain 2-0 in preparation for Iraq World Cup assignment in Abu Dhabi

The UAE warmed up for next week’s potentially pivotal 2018 World Cup qualifier with a 2-0 victory in a friendly against Bahrain on Wednesday. John McAuley reports from a Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.

Ismail Matar, centre, was on target for the UAE in their 2-0 friendly win over Bahrain at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain. Courtesy UAE FA
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AL AIN // The UAE warmed up for next week’s potentially pivotal 2018 World Cup qualifier with a 2-0 victory in a friendly against Bahrain on Wednesday.

Mahdi Ali’s men, getting their final run-out before they resume their quest to reach Russia 2018 against Iraq on Tuesday, controlled large swathes of the match at an almost empty Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, winning through goals from Ismail Matar and Walid Abbas.

The UAE were always favourites against a Bahrain side ranked 53 places in the world below them at 123rd and their superior talent told. They opened the scoring on the half-hour, when Omar Abdulrahman’s sublime through ball played in Abbas on the visitors’ left-hand side.

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The Al Ahli defender, whose return to fitness represents a significant boost for the UAE, squared to captain Matar to tap home. Confirmed as one of three candidates for the Asian Player of the Year award earlier in the day, Abdulrahman's influence was again key.

The UAE doubled their advantage just before the hour, once Matar and Abbas had again combined. This time, the latter converted from an acute angle, drilling a low shot past Sayed Nazar in the Bahrain goal.

Miroslav Soukup’s team did carve a few chances of their own, most notably in the 71st minute when substitute Mohammed Al Romaithi fired straight at Majed Naser with only the UAE goalkeeper to beat.

At the other end, Ahmed Khalil twice went close, once forcing a fine save from Nazar and later curling a free kick inches wide.

On the whole, Mahdi Ali should be content with the performance, even though he chose not to experiment greatly with his line-up.

However, the UAE manager did give rare starts to Matar and Al Wahda teammate Hamdan Al Kamali, who filled in at centre-back as Ismail Ahmed continues his return to full fitness.

In the second half, Al Shabab’s Mohammed Marzooq was granted the opportunity to impress alongside Al Kamali, replacing Al Ain’s Mohanad Salem.

Khalfan Mubarak, the in-form playmaker at Al Jazira and a late call-up to the squad, was introduced for the final 20 minutes, coming on for Abdulrahman. Victory secure, the UAE now turn attention to Tuesday’s critical World Cup qualifier with Iraq.

The Emirates, attempting to reach a World Cup for only the second time in their history, currently sit fourth in Group B after four fixtures.

With only the top two teams guaranteed progression to Russia, the UAE know nothing less than a win at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi will suffice. At present, they are two points off second-placed Australia, with Japan sandwiched between.

Saudi Arabia top the standings, in large part thanks to last month’s resounding 3-0 victory against the UAE in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia take on Japan in Saitama on Tuesday.

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