Football – Asian Cup: UAE finish on a high as Mabkhout scores fifth
- Updated: January 30, 2015
January 30, 2015: Ali Mabkhout netted a second-half penalty to top the tournament’s scoring chart as UAE claimed third place at the AFC Asian Cup by edging out 2007 champions Iraq in a 3-2 thriller at Newcastle Stadium on Friday.
Captain Ahmed Khalil opened the scoring for the UAE after 16 minutes before Waleed Salim and Amjed Kalaf put Iraq ahead before half-time. Khalil levelled at the start of the second half with his fourth of the campaign before Mabkhout coolly netted his fifth in Australia just before the hour mark – after Iraq’s Ahmed Ibrahim had been sent off – to hand the 1996 finalists their second-best finish at the AFC Asian Cup.
UAE coach Mahdi Ali believes the team deserve to now be considered among Asia’s top sides, rivalling 2014 World Cup representatives Japan, Korea Republic, Australia and Iran.
“I think we always need to be optimistic and we always have to think about improving the team as we want to be one of the top four teams in Asia. We are very close to these teams and I think that when we played Iran, who are ranked first in Asia as per the FIFA rankings, we played a very good game and in the end it was only one chance for Iran and they won,” said Ali, whose side lost 1-0 to Team Melli at the end of the group stage.
“There is no big difference between us and the other teams and we are very close and we have to work harder to compete with them in other areas. We have learned many things in this competition and we have to work harder on these areas if we want to qualify for the World Cup in 2018.”
With both coaches retaining the majority of their first team and only making minor changes to their starting line-ups following their semi-final defeats, the UAE’s exciting front three helped Mahdi Ali’s side open the scoring. Following a swift counterattack, playmaker Omar Abdulrahman exchanged passes with Mabkhout before swerving a stunning through ball for the rampaging Khalil to sidefoot first time from inside the area, rounding off one of the goals of the tournament.
Iraq were almost back on level terms just four minutes later. Majed Hassan’s attempted sliding clearance on the edge of the penalty area had bounced back off the woodwork following a deflection off Younus Mahmood’s before the veteran striker’s follow-up was acrobatically tipped over the crossbar by substitute UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa.
However, Eisa was given no chance after 28 minutes as Kalaf found Salim inside the area and the full-back’s strike crucially deflected off Khamis Esmaeel to beat the UAE goalkeeper high at his near post. Three minutes before half-time, Eisa was again beaten as the UAE custodian could only parry a low rasping drive from Ahmed Yasin from just outside the area and Kalaf was first to react, volleying home from 10 yards.
Iraq maintained their pressure at the start of the second half and came close to extending their advantage less than a minute after the restart as Mahmood scuffed wide from inside the area with only Eisa to beat from Yaser Kasim’s pass. The miss, though, proved costly for Iraq as just six minutes later Khalil beat the offside trap from Abdulrahman’s superb chipped ball forward, and after taking one touch to evade onrushing goalkeeper Mohammed Hamed, the striker rolled the ball into the empty net.
In the 57th minute, UAE completed the comeback as Ibrahim was sent-off after hauling down Mabkhout inside the area following a mistake by goalkeeper Hamed and the striker picked himself up to coolly beat the Iraq custodian from the resulting penalty. Mabkhout moved one goal clear of teammate Khalil and Jordan’s Hamza Al Dardour at the top of the goalscoring chart.
UAE came close to extending their lead with 15 minutes remaining as substitute Walid Abbas headed against the foot of the back post from Abdulrahman’s deep corner. And despite Iraq pressing forward in the closing stages, UAE held on to claim third place at the Asian Cup for the first time, having lost to China on penalties at the same stage in 1992.
Source: WSG / AFC Asian Cup (www.afcasiancup.com); Editing by SportAsia