AFC Asian Cup 2019: United Arab Emirates squeeze through to the knockout rounds

Ali Mabkhout scoring UAE's first against Thailand

UAE, sorely missing the injured midfielder Omar Abdulrahman at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, looked ragged and panicked at times, just did enough to squeeze through to the knock out rounds of the tournament. The Thais, meanwhile, produced a wonderful performance, implementing a very entertaining offensive tactic, stemming from their previous match against Bahrain.

As expected and evidently from the starting lineup Zaccheroni had opted for a more defensive approach against the Thais as he made a few changes to the squad. Both Mohamed Ahmed Gharib and Majed Hassan started the match with Gharib starting as a right back. Bandar Al-Ahbabi who was a starter in that very position was pushed higher to a role he was comfortable playing as a midfielder on the right of the pitch.

The Emiratis, maintaining consistency based on their first few matches, once again failed to force the opposition goalkeeper into a save (apart from the goal) and, realistically, didn’t look like scoring against a Thai side that had come off a strong win against Bahrain.

However the hosts did break the deadlock early on scoring in the seventh minute as Ali Mabkhout scored his second goal of the tournament after Al Hasan Saleh’s low cross was picked by Ismael Al-Hammadi who attempted a shot at Tedsungneon’s goal. The shot deflected back of the top crossbar falling gracefully on to the head of the rushing Ali Mabkhout who nipped it into the back of the net.

But the Thai offense had responded well as they put pressure on Khalid Eisa’s goal especially with an attempt in the 22nd minute when Adisak Kraisorn tested the Emirati keeper with a well driven strike which was equally dealt with by a quick to ground Eissa who produced a brilliant save with his strong right fist to the ball.

The Emiratis finally succumbed to the pressure from the Thais after some sloppy defending from the Emiratis resulted in Thitiphan Puangjan taking the opportunity to make something of a 50/50 ball and converting it into a goal in the 41st minute.

Zaccheroni tried to restructure team by bringing in Mohammed Abdulrahman in place of Bander Al-Ahbabi to provide more depth to the team as they attack and turned fruitful right away as Khalfan Mubarak found his preferred partner – Ali Mabkhout who attempted a shot directly at Tedsungnoen from outside the 18 yard box who parried the ball for a corner. The strike was Mabkhout’s first proper attempt at goal from outside the 18.

Apart from the early threat, both teams were content to play for a draw understanding that if the scored remained at one each, UAE would qualify to the knock-out rounds while Thailand would hope to qualify given the results of matches from the other groups.

As action from within group A ends, UAE will be entering the knockout rounds as table leaders followed by Thailand in second. Bahrain were able to score a last minute winner in Sharjah against India dashing the hopes of the latter who had hoped to qualify into the knock out rounds of the Asian Cup for the first time in their footballing history.