It was do or die for the United Arab Emirates as they faced India tonight at the Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi. The players were aware that they had to put in a performance.
It was slow but UAE did just that in front of 43,206 spectators (which by far is the largest reported of any matches in the current edition of the Asian Cup.)
However, it was their opponents who got on the front foot and provided an immediate scare for the Emiratis as Udanta Singh Kumam’s nifty footwork found Pritam Kotal who made the UAE defenders work hard to give away a corner. But, nothing substantial was produced off the set piece.
The first opportunity of the game arrived in the 11th minute with FIFA Club World Cup featuring Emirati GK Khalid Eisa showing his heroics after a defense splitting pass from Sunil Chettri found Muhammed Ashique Kuruniyan on the run who took struck the ball right at the keeper resulting in a corner.
Eissa was called into action once more as a free and strong header by the captain Sunil Chettri from a cross by Anirudh Thappa in the 22nd minute was sturdily pushed away by the keeper.
The Emiratis were lackluster in the opening 25 minutes which was evident by a moment between winger Bandar Al-Ahbabi and Khalid Eissa as the latter showed hesitancy in several occasions to come and meet the ball.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 42nd minute after a quick interplay between club mates Ali Mabkhout and Khalfan Mubarak with the latter showing a worthy level of trickery to get past the defender and a shot past Indian GK Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
However, ‘the Abyads’ were lucky not to have conceded a goal right away after a long ball from the keeper found Chettri on the run whose shot was just wide of the Eissa.
The Indians started the second half on the front foot as well after a quick pass and go between Udanta and Chettri in the 55th minute resulted in Udanta’s strike hitting the top bar of Eissa’s goal.
Ismael Al-Hammadi had an opportunity in the 74th minute to give the hosts a two goal lead after his attempt at goal hit the far post and deflected off the keeper to earn the Emiratis a corner.
However, 10 minutes later, Ali Mabkhout showed some prodigious level of first touch to control the ball and then make space for himself to score his first goal of the tournament raising the crowd to their feet.
The United Arab Emirates are scheduled to face Thailand in the final match of the group on Monday.