UAE draw 0-0 with hosts Kuwait to reach semi-finals where they are joined by Oman who advance at Saudis' expense
UAE breathe a sigh of relief as Oman send Saudi Arabia packing from Gulf Cup of Nations
A scoreless draw against Kuwait was enough for the UAE to book their place in the semi-finals of the Gulf Cup of Nations behind Oman who stunned Saudi Arabia 2-0 in the final Group A games.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s men were forced to weather a late storm before securing the point that would see them progress after wasting a host of chances early on at the Jaber Al Ahmed International Stadium in Kuwait City on Thursday.
Kuwait, who lost their opening two matches, could not qualify themselves but almost put paid to UAE's chances of reaching the knockout stages.
Zaccheroni's men were indebted to a brilliant save from centre-back Mohanad Salem Al Enazi in the dying embers of the game to keep the score at 0-0. The Al Ain defender dived in front of substitute Abdullah Al Buraiki to smother the Kuwaiti’s close range shot that ricocheted off his legs and sailed over the bar four minutes from time.
“We went for a win but a draw was good enough for us,” said a relieved Mohammed Ahmed, the UAE midfielder, in a post-match television interview.
“What is important now is that we are in the semi-finals. We had some chances to score in the first half but that didn’t happen.
“It’s not unusual for the pressure to build up when you don’t score but still we did well to force a draw.
“We had it on the back of our minds that a draw would be enough. But that certainly wasn’t the plan. We had a good first half and had we got a goal this game could have been different.
“Anyway, it’s behind us now. We are looking forward to the next game.”
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The UAE dominated the first half, restricting their hosts to a solitary long-range effort. Ali Salmeen floated a long ball over the Kuwait defence for Ali Mabkhout but the Al Jazira forward botched his shot with only goalkeeper Hameed Youssef to beat.
Youssef was called into action again minutes later to deny Omar Abdulrahman’s dipping effort from outside the area.
Abdulrahman, the UAE's creator-in-chief, set up Mohammed Bargash inside the area but the left winger wasted another opportunity with a meek effort straight at Youssef. who also did well to block a bullet effort from Khamis Ismail.
UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa was called into action before and after the break, beating away a speculative effort before denying Sultan Al Enezi's goal-bound header by flinging himself to his left-hand side.
At the other end Kuwait defender Hussain Hakem did well to scramble back to thwart Ismail Al Hammadi. The diminutive Shabab Al Ahli Dubai forward collected a long ball and lobbed it over the onrushing Kuwaiti keeper only to see it hooked out from the goal line by a sliding Hakem with the aid of a post.
Said Salam scored twice in the second half for Oman to emerge 2-0 winners over Saudi Arabia to send the 2018 World Cup qualifiers crashing out of the competition.