x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Gulf Cup: Ahmed Khalil thanks 'great support' from UAE fans

Emotions ran high for the UAE players after their dramatic late win over Kuwait booked a place in Friday's Gulf Cup final against Iraq.

Ismail Matar did not get to play in the Gulf Cup semi-final, but he was overwhelmed after the UAE won. Mohammed Dabbous / Reuters
Ismail Matar did not get to play in the Gulf Cup semi-final, but he was overwhelmed after the UAE won. Mohammed Dabbous / Reuters

Ismail Matar could not control his tears after the game, like many others in the UAE camp and the thousands of travelling Emirati fans. And probably some sitting at home and watching on TV.

The most senior member of Mahdi Ali's side, the Al Wahda forward did not get even a second of action in tonight's semi-final, but he was simply overwhelmed with emotions as the UAE triumphed over Kuwait to book their place in the final of the Gulf Cup.

"Thank you to all the players for this performance," Matar said, choking on his tears. "They are real men who refused to let the fans down.

"I felt we would win the match 2-0, but I thank God for the one goal, it was enough in the end."

That lone goal came through the golden boot of this golden generation. Struggling for form as he came to Bahrain, Ahmed Khalil shook off his rust with a two-goal blast against Oman in the last game.

And tonight, he repaid his teammates and coach Mahdi Ali for their support with the winner that took UAE into the final of the Gulf Cup for the second time after they won the trophy at home in 2007.

The loan strike came in the 89th minute when Khalil darted in from the right and connected perfectly with Abdulaziz Sanquor's left-footed cross. The stands and the UAE dugout erupted with joy.

"First I'd like to thank the great support from these fans here in the stadium, and from the whole nation," said Khalil, who has now taken sole ownership of the top scorer's spot in the tournament with three goals. "Their prayers drove us on and now they've been answered."

"Thank you, thank, thank you to all our fans, and I'd like to dedicate this win to all our Rulers and hopefully we can go on to win the final."

It was a perfect end for the thousands of UAE fans who had travelled to Manama for the game, most of them coming on the 11 planes that flew them in and out free of charge.

Their support was crucial as, after a testing start, the UAE started imposing themselves on the game.

The Whites had few opportunities at the Kuwait goal in the opening 20 minutes, but the chances started coming gradually and Omar Abdulrahman, the Al Ain playmaker, almost opened the scores in the 28th minute with a stinging left-footer from 20-yards out; the relief on Kuwaiti goalkeeper Nawaf Al Khaldi's face was evident as he fell backwards from impact.

The woodwork then came to Kuwait's rescue twice – denying Khalil and Khamis Ismail in the 45th and 60th minutes.

But that mattered little in the end as Khalil burst past his marker to slot home a minute from time.

"I was very confident we would win the match in normal time," Ismail said. "So often in these situations, when a team dominates, the goal will come very late in the game.

"The players showed real fighting spirit today and, of course, we have to thank our fans for their support … I hope we've sent them home happy tonight."


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