World Cup 2022 qualifiers: blow for UAE after losing in Thailand
Van Marwijk’s men beaten 2-1 at the Thammasat Stadium and suffer first defeat of qualifying group
After the points and the positivity picked from their opening two assignments, the UAE were brought back down to earth in the third.
Bert van Marwijk’s men had entered Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Thailand, tucked away in Rangsit on the outskirts of Bangkok, at the top of Group G, but departed having slipped two places.
A 2-1 defeat, deserved and delivered by a lively Thailand at the Thammasat Stadium, was a reminder of a project still very much in its infancy, that there remains much work to do. Suffering his first defeat since taking the reins last March, Van Marwijk will maintain there exists no quick fix.
The UAE went behind first on 26 minutes, then having restored parity right on half-time through regular goal-getter Ali Mabkhout, they conceded again on the other side of the break.
They were outplayed for large swathes by their rampant rivals, who leapt to the standings’ summit, with Vietnam a close second, level only on points. The UAE travel next to Hanoi, in four weeks’ time.
Against Thailand, they initially promised much. Not only because of the 2-1 victory last month against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, which opened the new era in welcome fashion, or last week’s 5-0 dismantling of lowly Indonesia in Dubai.
But they could take greater succour from Omar Abdulrahman's return to the starting line-up almost one year to the day since the last time he was named in his national team’s first XI.
To mark the occasion, the 2016 Asian player of the year, limited since last October by serious injury, was given the captain’s armband.
Yet, in front of a vocal and full house, Abdulrahman could not conjure his usual magic. Thailand’s tricky stole star billing. Their first chance arrived as early as the fourth minute, when Supachok Sarachat crossed for Teerasil Dangda, only for the veteran striker to side-foot beyond the bar.
He made know mistake with his next opportunity. Just before the hour, Ekanit Panya centred towards Teerasil, who rose between Mohammed Al Attas and Al Hassan Saleh to head high past Khalid Essa in the UAE goal. It had been coming.
From there, Thailand pressed for another. They struck the woodwork twice in quick succession, first when Al Attas stuck out a foot to divert a shot onto his own post, then when Teerasil headed Theerathon Bunmathan’s inswinging free-kick against the bar. Essa had barely moved.
Then, almost from nowhere, the UAE equalised. Hassan Saleh, who started in place of left-back Walid Abbas, sped down the flank, sent a pacey but pinpoint cross across goal for Mabkhout to score via a diving header. It was his sixth goal already this campaign; his seventh overall against Thailand.
However, where the two most recent meetings between the sides had ended 1-1, this time the night would belong to Thailand. Six minutes after half-time, the home side regained their lead, once Nitipong Selanon’s cross was met unmarked at the back post by Ekanit, who finished past Essa. The space he was afforded would have particularly irked Van Marwijk.
Tails up, Thailand sought to emphasise their superiority, but instead the UAE almost stole a share of the spoils. In the 73rd minute, substitute Ahmed Khalil stabbed an effort across the Thai goal. Having replaced Abdulrahman only moments before, it represented his first touch.
Khalil provided nearly the rescue act deep into injury time, only to lean back and lift the ball over the Thailand bar from 12 yards out. By now frantic on the touchline, Van Marwijk dropped to his knees in despair.
The UAE are far from in a similar position – it is merely three matches in - but they must now regroup and respond against Vietnam next month. Although early, this was a damaging defeat.
Updated: October 16, 2019 07:45 AM