UAE stutter in the 2019 Asian Cup opener

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Ahmad Khalil after scoring UAE's goal against Bahrain
Overview of the 2019 Asian Cup opener between UAE and Bahrain.

After a ceremonious start to the tournament characterized by the vibrant colors of the United Arab Emirates, the hosts earned the start they had wished for – shuting down the opponents early in the game and thereby creating opportunities.

Ismael Al-Hammadi had the opportunity to put the Emiratis in the front after a combination play with Ali Mabkhout with the former using his pace to get past the defender placing himself in a 1v1 situation with Bahraini keeper Sayed Shubbar, however the winger’s shot was saved by the rushing keeper.

In the 10th minute, UAE’s star striker Ali Mabkhout found himself in a position to take advantage of an open play but the support was lacking for him to make something of the opportunity. Khalfan Mubarak was the only other Emirati player in the opponent’s half.

The Bahrainis had their moments as well, with Mohammed Al-Romaihi looking dangerous on and off the ball. The striker was unable to connect on a cross from an open play after some good work by Jamal Rashed on the wing.

The reds ended the half on a high after Komail Al-Aswad’s 42nd minute freekick which came close considering an attempt at goal as the ball nicked the top of Khalid Eisa’s goal.

It was clear from the beginning of the second half that the Bahrainis had been instructed to press much higher up the pitch in the hope of preventing UAE’s playmakers time on the ball. The tactic resulted in Ali Madan receiving the ball in the opponent’s half eventually resulting in a shot on goal which was mishandled by the veteran Khalid Eissa. The keeper mistimed attempt to clear the ball fell gracefully in front of Al-Romaihi who failed to get the shot past the worried keeper who came out big. He had redeemed himself from any ridicule.

Ali Mabkhout who was having a quite night roused the crowd with the space he found himself in the 67th minute; midfielder Al-Hammadi crossed a low ball into the box resulting in a first touch thunder bolt from Mabkhout going wide of goal.

The dreadlock was broken in the 79th minute by Al-Romaihi who was increasingly showcasing his potential to do so. The lanky striker rose high high above the Emirati defenders to connect on a well-weighted cross from Ali Madan. While his first attempt was cleared off goal line, the clearance came back to him resulting in a shot neither the defenders nor the keeper could get to.

The goal resulted in an immediate sense of urgency with substitute Saif Rashid with an attempt at goal which was deflected to a corner by the keeper Hashem. Unfortunately, for the keeper the high ball from the corner fell awkwardly on Mohammed Mahroon which unfortunately for him, caused the Jordanian referee to point towards the spot for a penalty kick.

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Luckily for UAE, Ahmad Khalil – a specialist in dead ball situations, was subbed in just prior to the incident. The forward stepped up and converted it past the keeper earning the Emiratis the much need equalizer just before the final whistle.

UAE’s hopes to qualify had been dented by the Bahrainis with the squad required to earn a win either against India or Thailand, respectively.

For Bahrain, this could be considered as a win with this performance bolstering their confidence level heading into the next match.