x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

UAE ride on Khalil double to reach Gulf Cup final

UAE kept their top billing intact with a 3-1 victory over hosts Qatar at the Aspire Academy Stadium and will now play Kuwait in the U23 final.

The UAE players celebrate and kiss the ground after sealing their passage into the final.
The UAE players celebrate and kiss the ground after sealing their passage into the final.

The UAE's billing as the top team in the Under 23 Gulf Cup was kept firmly intact by Ahmed Khalil last night. The 2008 Asian Youth Player of the Year, scored on either side of the half to lead the UAE to the final with a comprehensive, 3-1 victory over Qatar, the host, to earn them a showdown with Kuwait in Saturday's final at the Aspire Academy Stadium. Khalil and Amer Abdulrahman were the architects of the UAE's victory last night. Abdulrahman set up Khalil inside the box with a neat pass, which the Al Ahli striker was on in lightning speed to reach before the charging Ahmed Sofyan, the Qatari goalkeeper. He tapped the ball to the back of the net for a 31st-minute lead.

The Khalil-Abdulrahman combination have so far accounted for three goals for the UAE. But Khalil's second goal was set up by Mohammed Fawzi, the captain, who worked down the right flank before slipping the ball to Khalil in the 65th minute to fire his fourth goal of the competition. It could have been even more, but Ahmed Ali was unlucky to see his effort crash against the post six minutes from time. Khalil, too, could have completed a hat-trick, but his close-range effort flew over from close range.

Having taken a solid hold of the game, Mahdi Ali's side kept the pressure on the host, and the body language of the Qataris seemed to accept the likelihood of defeat. Qatar had a few moments with their passing game but never came close to test Yousif Abdelrahman, the UAE stopper. They had a few shots at the UAE goal but they were from long range and were nowhere close to the target. The first shot they had at the goal was 10 minutes from time, when Abdulaziz al Ansari's bullet from 30 yards was blocked by Abdelrahman. But the Qatari gave the UAE a scare when he broke through the to score three minutes from time to keep the game alive until almost the final whistle. Al Ansari nearly forced the game into extra time, but completely missed his kick from inside the box.

Haboush Saleh, a substitute in extra time, scored the clinching goal barely one minute after coming onto the pitch. Khalil could have doubled the lead a few minutes after he opened the scoring, had a cross from Ali been not too high in front of the goalmouth. Sofyan did well to keep his side in the game with a couple of superb saves early in the second half. He kept out a curling free kick from the edge box off Amer Abdulrahman and blocked a stinging shot from Khalil.

Both sides struggled to keep possession in the first quarter but it was the UAE who grew in confidence as the game progressed. They forced the first corner and Sofyan rose above all to hold the high ball from Amer Abdulrahman. The UAE and Kuwait remain the two unbeaten teams in the competition. Their meeting in the group stage ended 1-1. @Email:apassela@thenatiuonal.ae