Asian Cup 2019: UAE showed 'champion's character' to beat Australia, says Alberto Zaccheroni

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Hosts the UAE exhibited a “champion’s character” to eliminate holders Australia and march into Asian Cup 2019’s semi-finals, according to coach Alberto Zaccheroni.

The dogged Whites ceded possession and chances to exalted opponents who beat them in 2015’s last-four. But encouraged by partisan support at a raucous Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, a suicidal back pass from Al Hilal-bound centre-back Milos Degenek was intercepted by Al Jazira predator Ali Mabkhout and he rolled into an open net – to become the competition’s joint-third all-time top scorer on nine strikes from 11 appearances – after goalkeeper Mathew Ryan was confidently rounded on 68 minutes.

This moment, allied with indomitable defending throughout from the likes of veteran Ismail Ahmed, saw a meeting secured against Qatar on Tuesday at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

“It is a deserved victory over a champion in Australia,” said Zaccheroni, who remains on course to achieve a repeat of 1996’s run to the decider during the last time the Emirates put on the event.

“As I mentioned earlier in the pre-match press conference, Australia is very strong and organised. They play very well tactically, they are stable with their formation and the players they keep in the squad.

“Since I assumed responsibilities, I changed the squad many times because of injuries. Today, the UAE showed their great character – a champion’s character.

“We defended well and attacked well. We were suffering from aerial balls, but we fought well and won the match.

“We don’t have to forget that we suffered emergency changes to two players, because of injury.”

The Whites came into the tournament under a cloud. A final friendly loss to Kuwait made it just six victories in 18 matches under Zaccheroni.

Against Graham Arnold’s remodelled Australia, they gained only 36-per-cent possession and had seven attempts to their opponents’ 22.

But it would be incorrect to tag this victory as lucky. They defended courageously and ruthlessly converted their best opportunity.

The weekend’s result saw the UAE eliminate the champions at the quarters for the second-successive tournament. Japan were their victims, under Mahdi Ali, in 2015 at Stadium Australia.

Mabkhout was also on the score sheet that night.

The 28-year-old’s latest effort also moved him onto an impressive 48 goals in 78 internationals, of which four have come in five matches during this edition.

His exploits earned special praise from Zaccheroni.

He said: “Everyone agrees that Mabkhout is a high-calibre striker and big player, his performance tonight was great.

“You know, we rely on the collective performance and his goal was critical. It turned the whole match.”

This victory, however, came at a cost. Al Ain right-back was stretchered off in the early stages with an apparent serious knee injury, Al Jazira centre-back Fares Juma had to have repeat treatment for concussion in the stretched final throes and buccaneering right winger Bandar Al Ahbabi further suffered a muscle problem.

“I do not have any updated information about the injured players, due to the short time we’ve had,” said Zaccheroni, who previously lost Al Nasr centre-back Khalifa Mubarak to injury against Kyrgyzstan in the round of 16 and has been without superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman – who watched on in the Garden City – for the entire running.

“After the press conference, we’ll contact the doctor of the national team and we’ll assess the injured players – Bandar Al Ahbabi, Mohamed Ahmed and Fares Juma.

“I hope they don’t have serious injuries.”

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