UAE 1 Thailand 1
January 14 – The United Arab Emirates finished top of Group A on five points after a low-key 1-1 draw with Thailand, a result that sees the War Elephants progress to the knockout stages of the Asian Cup for the first time since 1972.
The UAE had been guaranteed a spot among the last 16 going into their final group game, but Thailand needed a result to ensure progress. The hosts converted their first incursion in Thai territory when Ismail Alhammadi was released inside the box after seven minutes and striker Ali Mabkhout headed in the rebound, 1-0.
The Thais quickly abandoned their three-men rearguard, but that did little to help them regain the initiative. On a rare counterattack midway through the first half, the hosts’ number one Khalid Eisa was called into action, getting down quickly to save Adisak Kraisorn’s shot.
The War Elephants were helpless and matters got worse for Thailand when their defensive anchor Mika Chunuonse had to be stretchered off after 30 minutes. Chalermpong Kerdkaew came on and the Thais regained some composure.
The equaliser came against the run of play in a half in which they had been battered. In a comedy of errors Eisa and his defenders failed communicate leaving Thitipan Puangchan to steal in behind the Emirati rearguard and stab home an equaliser.
The hosts responded with a curled effort from Mabkhout, but the UAE and Thailand went to the dressing rooms level. Thailand still had it all to play for in the second half.
After the interval Alberto Zaccheroni’s team showed more urgency, but that energy soon faded as the UAE played slow and uninspired football. At the Thai end Teerasil Dangda couldn’t connect with the ball cleanly from a corner and a good chance went begging. Thailand grew in confidence as the game got more stretched and stretched.
The Thais looked more dangerous, but ultimately a draw suiting both sides and they were happy to run down the clock. With 15 minutes left, Zaccheroni sent on star man Ahmed Khalil, but his presence scarcely impacted a blunt UAE attack.
The final whistle saw more energy with wild celebrations from the Thais who advanced to the knockout stages for the first time in 46 years and rescued their tournament which had started unexpectedly and dramatically with a 4-1 hammering by India and the subsequent sacking of their Serbian coach Milan Rajevac.
Bahrain qualified alongside the UAE and Thailand from Group A, snatching a late winner and three points against India in Sharjah.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1634709465labto1634709465ofdlr1634709465owedi1634709465sni@o1634709465fni1634709465