The UAE remain on course for a storied first-ever Asian Cup triumph as they edged past courageous Kyrgyzstan in the capital.
Ali Mabkhout looked primed to be a predictable saviour for the host side when he coolly slotted home the winner after the White Falcons had threatened an upset at Zayed Sports City Stadium.
Khamis Esmail headed the hosts in front before Mirlan Murzaev’s equaliser. Mabkhout made it 2-1 before the men in red equalised again with minutes remaining in normal time.
Mabkhout was then adjudged to have been fouled in extra-time and substitute Ahmed Khalil fired home to make it 3-2.
Here we analyse the performance of talismanic UAE striker Mabkhout.
Midfield anchorman Esmail was a surprise scorer of the opening goal in Abu Dhabi, gleefully nodding home Khalifa Mubarak’s flick-on from veteran Ismail Matar’s corner.
But the Central Asian minnows – making their Asian Cup bow – were spirited throughout and equalised with a magical finish from Mirlan Murzaev in the 26th minute. He collected Akhlidin Israilov’s chipped pass and rounded Khalid Essa before finishing well despite the presence of Mubarak and Bandar Al Ahbabi on the line.
Amer Abdulrahman’s brilliant lofted pass was finished emphatically by the lethal Mabkhout but Kyrgyzstan, who threatened on several occasions to force a second equaliser, did so through Tursunaly Rustamov’s scrambled stoppage time header.
But the UAE and Khalil held their nerve set up a quarter-final with reigning champions Australia.
Got right – Natural finisher
There’s long been talk of an impending move to the football heartlands of Europe that never feels like it will happen for Mabkhout, but much like celebrated compatriot Omar Abdulrahman, he possesses the talent to thrive at a much higher level.
He is a plunderer of goals and has a rare knack to make it look so natural. In a tense knockout game, with the burden of hosting upon their shoulders and being given a stern test by lowly opponents, to take a difficult pass as he did with consummate ease and effortlessly strike the second goal was not even surprising.
He made it look easy. His part in the second was less stellar as he fell in the box, but his presence caused a stir and resulted in the referee pointing to the spot.
Got wrong – Composure
No sooner had Mabkhout produced what looked like the winner, he then contrived to waste a couple of guilt-edged chances to kill off Kyrgyzstan. After victory was snatched from them at the end of normal time, extra time could have begun with a bang when he latched onto a long throw that was not dealt with by the flimsy Falcons’ defence.
He was bearing down on goal and he rarely misses these sorts of chances – but not only did he not score, he completely ballooned his shot over. He also had another, more difficult, chance soon after but uncharacteristically miscued again.
A couple of uncharacteristic misses robbed Mabkhout of a possible hat-trick, but he played his part in two goals. His finish for the UAE’s second was typically lethal and even though his tumble for Khalil’s winning penalty was dramatic, it will count as a key contribution to securing the Whites’ place in the last eight.
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