By Paul Nicholson in Abu Dhabi
UAE 3 Kyrgyz Republic 2 (AET)
June 21 – Hosts UAE made it through to the quarter finals of the Asian Cup but only after having thrown away a winning position to send the match into extra time against a tenacious Kyrgyz Republic. Sub Ahmed Khalil had been on the pitch just four minutes before stepping up to slot the winning penalty.
It was a match that ebbed and flowed with the UAE and their superior technique too often looking like they had been strapped into a too rigid central and defensive formation. In contrast what Kyrgyzstan lacked in individual technique they more than made up for in commitment and creativity.
These teams had never played each other in an Asian Cup match before and the opening was very much a case of the two teams feeling each other and their styles out. With UAE’s 7 looking lively from the start
On 14 minutes, with UAE pressure building, Khalifa Ghanim headed a corner towards goal that was met by Khamis Esmaeel at close range to redirect to the top left corner. What looked like a game that was in dangering of meandering began to spark into life with Kyrgyzstan making more of the width of the pitch while the UAE looked crisper with their closer passing and movement.
With Kyrgyzstan making progress down the right hand side a ball from Akhlidin Israilov made it through to Mirlan Murzaev who rounded a defender and the goalie to slide the ball in from the right hand side of the six yard box.
All square with everything to play for the UAE started the second half brightly using their dominance of the right hand side to get a cross to Ali Ahmed Mabkhout who missed his header from close range.
Kyrgyzstan could have taken the lead themselves when inspirational captain Valerii Kichin curled a left footed shot from top right hand side of box on to the bar – it would have been a candidate for goal of the tournament.
Instead it was the UAE who took the lead with half an hour to go. An attack down the left eventually saw the ball neatly chipped to Mabkhout who made no mistake this time driving the ball past Kyrgyz keeper Kadyrbekov Kutman.
With 10 minutes to go UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni brought on Mohamed Gharib for Ismaeil Matar and add an extra defensive polayer. It was only asking for trouble.
With the UAE defending deeper and deeper and Kyrgyzstan throwing everything they had at the UAE goal a corner in added time from Anton Zemlianukhin was whipped in at the near post for Tursunali Rustamov to head home.
Game back on. If the end of 90 minutes saw UAE defending, extra time saw a role reversal with the UAE getting back to their more natural passing football.
A ball into Mabkhout in the box saw him pushed in the back and the referee pointed to the spot. The second time UAE had been awarded a decisive penalty in this tournament. Up stepped Khalil to leave no-one in any doubt who was going through to the next round.
With both sides exhausted the Kryzgs hit the bar in the last minute of overtime as the UAE once again defended deeply – some lessons don’t seem to be getting learnt.
The UAE fans were euphoric though many of them were conspicuous by their absence. Asked if they were staying away in protest over the UAE’s performances (there were just 17,000 in the stadium) Zaccheroni replied: “I believe that the stadium was not completely full but there was enough fans but maybe because it is cold and some fans preferred to watch the game on TV.” But cold-shouldered might have been more accurate.
The UAE now face Australia who came through a penalty shoot-out against Uzbekistan. The tournament is hotting up.
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