UAE 1 Bahrain 1
January 5– UAE Striker Ahmed Khalil saved the host nation’s blushes with a late penalty as the United Arab Emirates drew 1-1 with Bahrain in the opening game of the 2019 Asian Cup. By Samindra Kunti at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi.
A brisk and colourful opening ceremony, attended by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, AFC president Sheikh Salman and FIFA president Gianni Infantino, set the stage for the 17th edition of the Asian Cup. A large inflated version of the newly-designed trophy dominated the celebrations as the biggest Asian Cup ever with 24 participants got underway. Paper falcons and the upgraded Zayed Sports City Stadium provided a wonderful backdrop as an operetta entitled ‘Zanaha Zayed’ featuring star performers Hussain Al Jassmi, Eida Al Menhali and Balqees Ahmed Fathi entertained the fans. The 13-minute show told the story of the tournament’s mascot, Mansour, an Emirati boy inspired by flight of falcons.
In the opening stages the hosts dominated and midfielder Ismail Alhammadi squandered a huge opportunity, hesitating a moment too long in front of the goalmouth for Bahraini goalkeeper Sayed Shubbar to get just enough body on the ball to prevent a dream start in the fifth minute for the United Arab Emirates and their coach Alberto Zaccheroni. The Italian could only smile awkwardly at the missed chance.
The UAE’s star player Ali Mabkhout shot across the face of goal in the seventh minute as the Bahraini defence became increasingly stretched. Mabkhout was the sole representative of the UAE’s holy trinity with Ahmed Khalil benched and Omar Abdulrahman out injured, but gradually, his influence dwindled as Miroslav Soukup’s team forced him further back. The UAE’s number seven became a peripheral figure as Bahrain grew in confidence.
At the other end Mohamed Alromaihi proved lively, roaming the front line seemingly unchecked. The number thirteen had a first sniff of goal for the visitors with a header at the far-post in the 25th minute, but it was a set piece that brought Bahrain their closest chance to break the deadlock just before the interval. Komail Alaswad’s free-kick sailed just over the bar.
After the break Bahrain maintained their discipline and played toe-to-toe with the more-fancied host nation. In fact, the Bahrainis enjoyed the better chances as goalkeeper Ali Salmin spilled a shot from Ali Madan and saved an angled attempt from Alromaihi in the 73rd minute. The hosts remained tepid and were punished for their conservative approach when Alromaihi, who was arguably the man of the match, struck in the 79th minute from close range. He had tormented the home defence all night and was left unmarked one time too many.
It was until a tense final few minutes that the UAE managed an equaliser to save their blushes.
Zacherroni brought on Ahmed Khalil, much to the delight of the partisan crowd, and the star striker immediately delivered. Bahrain’s Mohamed Marhoon was found guilty of handling the ball inside the box in the 88th minute and Khalil, in his 100th appearance for the UAE, converted from the spot to earn the hosts a hard-won point.
Contact the writer of this story Samindra Kunit at moc.l1702264450labto1702264450ofdlr1702264450owedi1702264450sni@o1702264450fni1702264450