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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

UAE continue 2019 Asian Cup preparations with win over Yemen

Goals from Ali Mabkhout and Ali Salmeen ensured a welcome win for the national team at Al Wasl's Zabeel Stadium

UAE players celebrate Ali Mabkhout's goal against Yemen on Tuesday. Satish Kumar for The National
UAE players celebrate Ali Mabkhout's goal against Yemen on Tuesday. Satish Kumar for The National

The UAE rounded off their latest preparations for the 2019 Asian Cup with a 2-0 victory in the hastily arranged friendly against Yemen in Dubai on Tuesday.

The national team, who were supposed to face Egypt in Abu Dhabi only for the match to be cancelled last week, secured a second victory in 10 matches through goals from Ali Mabkhout and Ali Salmeen.

The UAE, Asian Cup hosts this January, will next convene on December 15 as they get set to stage the continent’s premier tournament for only the second time.

The first notable piece of action against Yemen, Asian Cup debutants, arrived in the fourth minute, when Khamis Esmail stole possession on the edge of the visitors’ penalty area to unleash Mabkhout. The Al Jazira striker’s fierce shot rattled the base of the post.

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However, it did not take the UAE long to make their mark. On 20 minutes, fine work from right-back Bandar Al Ahbabi played in Ismail Al Hammadi, who pulled back the ball for the onrushing Saif Rashed. The Sharjah youngster, a fresh call-up to the squad this month, slotted home. It was the UAE's ninth goal in 17 matches since Italian Alberto Zaccheroni was appointed 13 months ago.

Shortly after, Al Hammadi almost put the UAE two up, but his smart run and drive was palmed away for a corner by Yemen goalkeeper Mohammed Ayash.

Ranked 50 places below the UAE at No 131 in the Fifa standings, Yemen did not trouble home goalkeeper Khalid Essa until eight minutes before half-time, when Hussein Al Ghazi tried his luck from range. Essa, though, pushed away the shot.

Zaccheroni, an Asian Cup winner with Japan in 2011, made a raft of changes during the second half and for a while his side looked more than a little disjointed.

It almost allowed Yemen a way back into the encounter. In the 62nd minute, a mix-up in defence involving Fares Juma, captain for the night, sent Mohsen Mohammed through, only for the Yemen forward to poke his shot over the UAE crossbar.

Then, four minutes later, the UAE made safe the result. Collecting the ball in midfield, Salmeen exchanged a neat one-two with Mabkhout, chested down the ball and finished neatly past Ayash. The goal would have carried additional significance for the midfielder, who plays his club football at the Zabeel Stadium for Al Wasl.

The UAE had few other chances to add to their tally - Ayash got a foot to substitute Mohammed Al Akbari’s low effort from the angle - while Yemen finished the match strongly.

The fixture brought to a close the UAE’s penultimate training camp ahead of the Asian Cup, which takes place in the Emirates from January 5-Febraury 1. Zaccheroni’s men have been drawn in Group A alongside Bahrain, India and Thailand, and kick off the expanded 24-team tournament against their Gulf neighbours in Abu Dhabi on January 5.

Yemen, meanwhile, have been placed in Group D together with Iran – Asia’s top-ranked team – Iraq and Vietnam. They begin their first Asian Cup against three-time champions Iran in Abu Dhabi on January 7.