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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 January 2019

Ahmed Khalil: UAE must take positives from draw with Bahrain in Asian Cup opener

Striker wants teammates to learn from Saturday's struggles in first game in Group A when they return to action against India on Thursday

Ahmed Khalil says the UAE must take whatever positives they can from their disappointing Asian Cup opener with Bahrain as they seek a rapid response against India on Thursday.

The hosts, staging the tournament for only the second time in the country’s history, needed a late penalty to salvage a draw against Bahrain in Abu Dhabi on Saturday in their opening Group A game.

Their Gulf neighbours appeared poised to upset Alberto Zaccheroni's side at Zayed Sports City Stadium, taking the lead in the 78th minute through Mohammed Al Romaihi’s goal.

However, the UAE were awarded a questionable penalty three minutes from time, which substitute Khalil coolly dispatched. The match marked the striker’s 100th appearance for his national team.

“Today was more important to not lose the game,” Khalil said afterwards. “The good thing is that we came back and the more important is we have to think about next game.

“Every player feels responsible for what’s gone on today and they think about the next game and to hopefully get three points, to see the solutions to get three points.”

The UAE were forced to toil for much of Saturday's proceedings in front of more than 33,000 supporters at Zayed Sports City.

Their preparations for the Asian Cup, expanded for the first time to 24 teams, had not been ideal, with injuries to key players headlined by Omar Abdulrahman’s absence, and their struggles in front of goal.

The UAE have now scored 12 goals in 19 matches since Zaccheroni was appointed in October 2017.

Khalil denied that the burden of being hosts had affected his side, who began brightly but then created very little.

“It’s not pressure,” Khalil said. “This is the first game and this is football. Sometimes you maybe don’t play well and you win. But in the tournament you have to give the maximum, you have to fight and you have to work more.

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“This is how we came back and we can do it for the next game: see which solutions we go for to get three points and hopefully we come back.”

Although the result was not what he wanted, Khalil will have been satisfied with his cameo performance.

Introduced with nine minutes remaining and with the UAE looked square at defeat, the forward did enough to earn what could prove to be a vital point. He dispatched his spot-kick expertly, despite there being little time left on the clock.

"No big pressure because this is penalty is not for me only," Khalil said. "It’s for all the team: they play for the penalty, for any point in the game.

"We have to work more, because sometimes the game is difficult to score and we have to get the solution as to how you score.

"But the good thing today is the penalty came at a good time, we came back and we have to continue. We have to work more."

The UAE next face India at the same venue on Thursday, with Bahrain taking on Thailand in Dubai on the same day.

Updated: January 6, 2019 02:17 PM

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