In a game of few chances, there was nothing to separate the two nations level on points at the top of Group A.
UAE's Gulf Cup clash with Saudi Arabia ends all square in Kuwait City
The UAE failed to book an early spot in the Gulf Cup semi-finals on Monday after they were held to a lacklustre goalless draw by Saudi Arabia in their second Group A assignment in Kuwait.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s men struggled to make their experience count against a largely experimental Saudi side at the Jaber Al Ahmed International Stadium in Kuwait City, as both teams sought to build upon opening-day victories.
However, clear-cut chances were generally hard to come by, with Ali Mabkhout squandering in the first half perhaps the UAE’s best opportunity, while goalkeeper Khalid Essa had to make a smart stop not long before the break from Mukhtar Fallatah.
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The UAE, who opened their bid for a third Gulf Cup crown with a 1-0 win against Oman last Friday, conclude the group on Thursday against hosts Kuwait. The Saudis, meanwhile, take on Oman.
For the match with Saudi, Zaccheroni opted for almost the same starting line-up as he had chosen against Oman – the Italian’s first competitive fixture in charge - with only defender Ismail Ahmed reverting to the bench. The Al Ain centre-back was replaced by Al Jazira’s Fares Juma.
The UAE had the better of the first half for large spells, creating their first real opportunity on 11 minutes when Omar Abdulrahman played through Mabkhout. However, the striker, scorer of the game’s only goal against Oman, screwed wide his shot as the angle narrowed quickly.
It took the UAE another 12 minutes to get their second sight of goal. This time, Mohammed Abdulrahman flicked brother Omar Abdulrahman’s corner towards the Saudi net, but the Al Ain midfielder’s effort was cleared off the line. Replays showed goalkeeper Assaf Al Qarni had made up the ground to save if required.
As the first half wore on, Saudi grew into the match and were nearly ahead nine minutes before half time. UAE defender Khalifa Mubarak was caught in possession upfield, with Saudi midfielder Abdulrahman Al Obaid setting clear Fallatah.
The forward elected to chip the onrushing Essa from the edge of his penalty area, only for the UAE goalkeeper to backtrack and tip the attempted lob over the crossbar. Zaccheroni admonished Mubarak for his mistake.
Almost immediately after the half-time break, the UAE had a clear claim for a penalty when Salem Saeed clipped Mabkhout just inside the Saudi area. The contact was minimal, but appeared enough to stop Mabkhout from reaching the ball as he turned inside Saeed to shoot. At the other end, Fallatah forced a low save from Essa.
A scrappy opening 20 minutes to the second half was then nearly broken by Saudi's Salem Al Moasher, but the midfielder lifted his half volley high over the crossbar when he should have forced Essa once more into action.
Not long after, Fallatah dragged across goal a half volley of his own as Saudi pressed for an opener. On 73 minutes, Al Obaid curled a free kick from the right off target.
Both teams fought until the final whistle for a winner, with the UAE putting their opponents under significant pressure in injury time. Right at the death, substitute Ismail Al Hammadi headed Abdulrahman’s in-swinging free kick over the Saudi crossbar.
It proved the last action of the match, leaving the UAE to focus now on Thursday’s final group encounter against Kuwait. Victory there would seal progression to the last four.