The UAE won for the first time at the 2019 Asian Cup, star talents Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout the scorers in a 2-0 win over India.
The Blue Tigers were the better side for large parts, but a fine opening was undone when Al Jazira colleagues Mubarak and Mabkhout combined for the former to put the Whites ahead before the break.
India were again industrious and dangerous after the break, but faded a little and the UAE sealed victory late on with Mabkhout grabbing a killer second goal.
Here we look at the game’s talking points.
BATMAN AND ROBIN ARE UAE’S SUPERHEROES
Ali Mabkhout has long been one of the UAE’s main poster boys, alongside Omar Abdulrahman. One of the biggest gripes in recent years though has been the apparent refusal or inability to recognise the ability of his Al Jazira team-mate Khalfan Mubarak – long proclaimed as the future of the national team.
His goal proved the turning point in this pulsating encounter – but one wonders if he would’ve been on the field to score it had Amoory not been ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury.
Alberto Zaccheroni is not known as a champion of pretty football. But it was a beautiful move that led to the opening goal, with the hard-working Mabkhout holding up play and teeing up Mubarak, who showed lovely feet to outwit Anirudh Thapa and Anas Edathodika and send a clipped finish high past Gurpreet Singh.
It’s a partnership that has routinely combined to devastating effect for the Pride of Abu Dhabi this season – Jazira sit second in the Arabian Gulf League, three points behind leaders Sharjah.
Their 37 goals is bettered by no one, with 62 per cent of them scored by either Mabkhout (15) or Mubarak (eight). The deadly duo account for 38 per cent of assists (Mabkhout has four, Mubarak 10).
That it was Mabkhout setting up Mubarak for the Whites’ opening goal last night was uncommon but not unusual. Mabkhout predictably leads the AGL in goalscoring but has set up two of Mubarak’s eight goals. The 23-year-old midfielder has laid on a third (five) of Mabkhout’s goals.
Can the UAE win a maiden Asian Cup on home soil? That remains to be seen. The UAE are hardly scintillating viewing under Zaccheroni, but with this dynamic duo on the field, anything seems possible.
INSPIRATIONAL INDIA HARD DONE BY
Mesmeric in their opening 4-1 thrashing of Thailand four days earlier, India were no less entertaining and enterprising here in defeat.
Stephen Constantine’s side might have been defeated, but the coach would have been elated with their constant energy and ingenuity.
Roared on by a vociferous sea of blue shirted supporters in the crowd throughout the 90 minutes, their fans deserved a goal as much as the team.
Impressive in defeat they may have been, but Constantine and Co will also wonder how they failed to take anything away from the game – they harried and harangued ageing Whites centre-back Ismail Ahmed, the veteran Al Ain defender stretched to his vert limits by India’s pacy and predatory attackers.
The UAE faded after a bright start and Khalid Essa was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers in the first half, forced to make two smart stops, first from Ashique Kuruniyan who brought a fine one-handed save out of the Boss custodian.
Minutes later he repelled Sunil Chhetri’s fearsome header, although he was a bystander when the best move of the game saw Udanta Singh thump the underside of the bar.
India were even robbed of the consolation their efforts were at least deserving of when Sandesh Jhingan’s stoppage time header again thudded against the bar.
But they must remember this is not the end of their tournament. The result leaves them second in Group B and still in the driving seat for an automatic berth for the round of 16, especially with winless Bahrain left to play.
There’s plenty of bite left in the Blue Tigers, who will give any opponent in the knockout stages a roaring good game.
UAE CLINICAL WHILE INDIA IMPRESS
The UAE were far from flawless but they were, above anything else, clinical. While India deservedly earned plaudits for the way they took the game to hosts 18 places above them in the FIFA world rankings, it is the Whites who head into the final group game top of the table and favourites to remain there.
Constantine argued after the game the least his side deserved was a draw, and he was right. Twice hitting the woodwork and twice bringing fine stops out of Essa. But lose they still did, and after throwing themselves into the game and attacking the home side constantly in the first half, they sadly ran out of steam in the second half.
The UAE were under siege for large parts of the game, but they also showed all their experience in repelling their opponents and as the Blue Tigers faded, they pounced to seal the win late on through the dangerous Mabkhout.
Veteran defender Ahmed, 33, at times was marshalling a ragged-looking backline, used all his nous to snuff out chances for the wily Chhetri and an exciting looking India attack all game, even though he at times looked off the pace.
As Chhetri and his colleagues ran out of steam in the dying embers of the game, Ahmed was calm and composed as he cleverly urged his side forward, looking for the killer goal rather than sitting and protecting what they had, knowing India had the ability to grab an equaliser.
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