UAE 1 Australia 0
By Samindra Kunti
January 25 – The United Arab Emirates shocked Australia 1-0 in the quarterfinals to send the defending champions packing and prolong their stay at their own party which they are now warming up to. They will face Qatar in another spicy geopolitical showdown in the last four.
No one had given the UAE much of a chance after their lacklustre first four games, including a narrow knockout win against Uzbekistan, but against Australia they improved and came good with a gritty display that frustrated the Australian forward line.
At 33, Walid Abbas put in a heroic performance. Majed Hassan and striker Ali Mabkhout, the match winner, also proved their class to propel UAE through.
Alberto Zaccheroni had his team fired up and they demonstrated all the commitment and zip that had so been lacking from their previous games.
Australian coach Graham Arnold shook up his line-up, dropping Awer Mabil to the bench and playing two centre forwards in a classic 4-4-2 formation. The Socceroos dominated possession, but the hosts enjoyed a positive start with some forceful counterattacking.
After a penalty claim from Australia, the UAE attacked down the middle before Ismail Alhammadi struck on the left channel. He toe poked the ball straight at Matthew Ryan. The Australians took over with Chris Ikonomidis, often floating between the lines, dribbling past the back line before seeing his shot blocked at the last moment.
It was all Australia before the 30-minute mark and they stretched the UAE in every direction. Jamie Maclaren’ saw a header cleared off the line. At the other end the best chance fell to the hosts with Makhbout heading an excellent flick on over from close range.
The second half continued where the first had let off with open play, direct running and physical challenges. The Australians enforced their domination with Zaccheroni’s team lurking on the counterattack. Apostolos Giannou, who had been denied by Khalid Eisa in the first half, was in the thick of the action but lacked a finishing touch. In reply, Alhammadi remained an outlet for his team with his bustling energy.
Birthday boy Gianniou did ripple the net after the hour mark, but Matthew Leckie, Maclaren’s replacement, was correctly ruled offside in the build-up. The Australian bench however kept protesting the decision and was told to cool down.
The UAE were not out of the game and they helped themselves to an opportunistic goal, their first-ever against Australia, in the 67th minute when Makhbout rounded Ryan after a pedestrian back pass from Degenek was intercepted. Degenek claimed he had been clipped and pleaded for the VAR to intervene, but the Australian, one of his team’s best defenders in the tournament, had little to complain about.
On the touchline Arnold couldn’t believe his eyes. Suddenly Australia were chasing the game and their title defense.
Mabil substituted Kruse as Australia facing a reinforced back line, went in search of a vital equaliser. He had two attempts before Arnold rolled the final throw of the dice, bringing on Andrew Nabbout. The Australians had also trailed against Jordan and this was another test of their resolve and resilience.
The Socceroos crowded the UAE’s box, but the hosts stood firm in a nail-biting finale, closing down the space and restricting Australia to forlorn attempts from outside the box and crosses. With injuroies everywhere and chaos reigning, added time lasted ten frantic minutes.
Arnold and the Socceroos will be left to lick their wounds, but the UAE will celebrate their shock win on a historic day for football in the Gulf.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1696225339labto1696225339ofdlr1696225339owedi1696225339sni@o1696225339fni1696225339