AFC Asian Cup: Late drama as UAE, Bahrain share spoils in opening clash

Bahrain looked like it was on its way to claiming its first win against UAE in the Asian Cup but a contentious penalty decision in the 88th minute gave the UAE a chance to draw level.

Bahrain forward Mohamed Al Romaihi (red) scored the opening goal of the tournament.   -  AFP

The opening clash of AFC Asian Cup 2019 witnessed some late drama as host United Arab Emirates scored in the 87th minute to salvage a 1-1 draw and share the spoils with Bahrain at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City Stadium on Saturday. 

Buoyed by a boisterous home crowd, the home side did the bulk of the attacking in the opening minutes. It had the chance to to open the scoring in the sixth minute when star striker Ali Mabkhout won the ball in midfield and played a delightful through-ball to Ismail Alhammadi with only the goalkeeper to beat. Ismail tried to place it past Sayed Shubbar, but the latter rushed off his line to make a fine block. 

The attacking trio of Mabkhout, Khalfan Mubarak and Alhammadi worked the ball between them in midfield and played some quick one-touch passes but struggled to create a concrete move. Mabkhout, who had scored the fastest goal in Asian Cup history the last time the two sides clashed in 2015, had a forgettable outing as he failed to convert a host of chances that came his way. 

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With the UAE full-backs fleeting up and down the flanks, the defence looked susceptible on the counter and Bahrain took full advantage after a cautious approach initially. Bahrain's Jamal Rashed made a fiery run down the right flank in the 21st minute, speeding past the UAE defence and curled in a delightful cross towards Mohamed Alromaihi but he couldn't connect.  

The home side survived another scare in the 26th minute when Mabkhout made a mess of a clearance and played the ball straight to opposition midfielder Komail Alaswad. He floated in a looping ball but Al Romaihi's header lacked venom. 

The Emiratis hogged the possession and had over 60 percent possession in the opening half hour but simply lacked much-needed structure, while the Bahrainis continued to pile up the pressure on the right wing.

Bahrain came within inches of scoring at the cusp of half-time. Ali Madan -- with three defenders snapping at his heels -- made a tearing run into the attacking third and looked set to let one rip but was hacked down less than 10 yards from the box. Alaswad stepped up to take the freekick and curled it beautifully towards the top right corner -- beating the wall and the keeper -- but the ball just grazed the top of the net.        

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Not entirely pleased with his side's display, UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni made a double substitution in the 54th minute, bringing on the influential playmaker Mohammed Abdulrahman. His introduction injected pace up front, but the side's woeful run in front of goal continued. Mabkhout had a golden opportunity in the 68th minute when a cross from the right found its way to him at the far post where her was completely unmarked. He would've buried the ball into the net on any given day but it wasn't mean to be on the night as his half-volley attempt streaked just wide of the post.

UAE's Ahmed Khalil, who came on as a substitue, slotted the ball home from the spot to equalize.   -  AFP

 

Opens up

The game turned on its head post the 75th minute. With less than a quarter of an hour left, both sides pushed bodies ahead in search of the first goal of the tournament and it was Bahrain that drew first blood. Alromaihi - a constant menace in the left - made the difference.

He initially struck a fine header off Sayed Redha's cross but the UAE defence scrambled to clear the attempt at the goal line. Alromaihi latched onto the rebound and buried the ball into the back of the net to give his side the lead.

Bahrain looked like it was on its way to claiming its first win against UAE in the Asian Cup but a contentious penalty decision in the 88th minute gave the home side a chance to draw level. The referee opined that Mohamed Marhoon had handled the ball in the box, while replays suggested otherwise, and signalled to the spot. Ahmed Khalil, who had come on less than seven minutes ago, slotted the ball home with ease to make it 1-1, much to the joy of the capacity crowd.