Hosts United Arab Emirates will be hosting Bahrain tomorrow at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi in the opener of the 17th edition of the Asian Cup.
The hosts will be out to claim all three points given their squads superior technical abilities over their opponents. Of course, the victory over the Bahrainis will be vital in setting the stance and foundation of what is to be expected Alberto Zaccheroni’s men.
Here is what you need to know prior to kick-off.
The last time the two met in a competitive environment involved a similar setting which resulted in a 2 – 1 victory for the Emiratis thanks to an own goal by Mohamed Husain. The match-up also saw one of the fastest goal ever scored in the Asian Cup, courtesy of Ali Mabkhout in 14 seconds. The crucial victory was enough for the Emiratis to get through to the knock-out rounds eventually ending up in third place in Australia.
Since then the teams met in an international friendly in 2016 which resulted in a 2 nil victory for the ‘Al Abyad’.
UAE’s record against Bahrain:
Since 2007, UAE has had a stronger hand over Bahrain, getting the better of them on 5 different occasions, along with a tie and a loss. In those 7 matches between the two, the Emiratis scored 19 goals conceding 10.
How are Bahrain doing in the build up to the Asian Cup?
Apart from the fact that the FA is trying to look past the story of former NT player Hakeem Al-Araibi – 25-yr-old defender within the squad on the verge of extradition from Thailand, making the news, the squad has had a rough time coughing up the wins in recent friendlies. However, talents like Jamal Rashid and Sami Al-Husaini do have the potential to put a dent in the hopes of their opponents. By introducing, team cohesiveness, strong work ethic and a dab of good luck, the team will be hoping to outperform their previous high in the tournament – a fourth place finish in China in 2004.
A familiar face in the line-up:
Legendary midfielder Ismael Matar could make a mark in this match-up. With word being he would be playing with a mask on to protect himself from the facial injury sustained, it will be interesting to see the amount of playing time Zaccheroni would be willing to give him. However, the Al-Wahda playmaker has been great form for his club side showing no signs of aging breaking up plays and providing vital support in the attack. Additionally, the Emiratis will rely on his experience to settle any early jitters for those around him.
The one to watch:
While many predict Ali Mabkhout to make an immediate impact in the tournament, eyes will be on Khalfan Mubarak as the 23-yr-old attacking midfielder has been key in Mabkhout’s success at Al-Jazira with the former providing 11 assists with majority of them going to Mabkhout. With only 5 caps, there might be a little bit of hesitation from Zaccheroni to give him a shot but there would be no better opportunity for Khalfan Mubarak than this match-up against for Bahrain for him to prove his credentials.
UAE will need to pull out all the cards possible to take away the three points possible. A strong start would only boost the Emirati morale.
However, it’s not to say that Bahrain would just sit back and take on everything UAE will be unleashing on them. This lesser known squad can knock the stuffing out of them if they play long balls into the back four as it is repeatedly evident that the defense cannot cope under pressure when it comes to open play. If Zaccheroni’s men are able to deal with that aspect of their game, life should be simple enough come Saturday evening.