Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

Tense and tight, but UAE accomplish Thailand target in World Cup qualifying

Ali Mabkhout scored twice and Ahmed Khalil added a late third on Thursday night in Abu Dhabi as the UAE took another step toward the 2018 World Cup with a 3-1 win over Thailand.
Ali Mabkhout, right, celebrates with teammate Salem Saleh after scoring against Thailand on Thursday night in Abu Dhabi. Tom Dulat / Getty Images / October 6, 2016
Ali Mabkhout, right, celebrates with teammate Salem Saleh after scoring against Thailand on Thursday night in Abu Dhabi. Tom Dulat / Getty Images / October 6, 2016

UAE 3-1 Thailand

UAE: Mabkhout 14’, 47’; Khalil 90+3’

THA: Chanabut 65’

Man of the Match: Tariq Ahmed

ABU DHABI // It was tense and it was tight, but the UAE eventually saw off Thailand to secure three precious points on the road to Russia.

Mahdi Ali’s men, ranked 69 places in the world above the Southeast Asians, made hard work of the 2018 World Cup qualifier at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Thursday night, jumping to a seemingly unassailable lead only to let the visitors back in to set up a frantic finale.

A double from Ali Mabkhout and an injury-time strike from substitute Ahmed Khali did it, rendering Thailand’s second-half rally redundant. Amid the drama and the defensive lapses, which allowed substitute Tana Chanabut to score and halve the hosts’ advantage, the UAE had claimed a vital victory.

They now sit on a rather encouraging six points from a possible nine, well placed heading into Tuesday’s titanic tussle against Saudi Arabia in Jeddah. Thailand dispatched, that now represents priority No 1.

There should be a few alterations for next week. Against Thailand, Mahdi Ali made use of his squad, the starting line-up much changed from last month’s XI against Australia, some enforced, some perhaps with the trip to Saudi in mind.

More UAE World Cup qualifying

• Australia loss: Five takeaways from UAE’s 1-0 defeat in September

• Japan win: Ahmed Khalil double leads UAE in qualifying-opening win – in pictures

As expected, Majed Naser returned in goal to replace the injured Khalid Essa, and promptly sported the captain’s armband. In midfield, Amer Abdulrahman made way for Al Nasr’s combative Tariq Ahmed, while Ahmed Khalil joined the Al Ain star on the bench. The reigning Asian footballer of the year, scorer of both goals in that famous victory in Japan, had not trained with the team for much of this week. However, he would later be called into action.

Initially, the UAE appeared poised for an enjoyable evening.

They opened the scoring in the 14th minute, when right-back Mohammed Fawzi’s cross was flicked on by Salem Saleh and bounced into the net off Mabkhout. Created by Al Jazira, scored by Al Jazira, and at their home ground. Club before country, momentarily at least.

Mabkhout should have doubled his and his side’s tally 12 minutes later, yet the striker’s header thudded against the opposition’s crossbar. Not long after, Saleh scuffed his shot when well placed.

While the UAE would have expected to be more clinical, more decisive in the final third, Thailand did threaten in patches, particularly on the break. Even in the opening exchanges, before a blow had been landed, Mohanad Salem had to be alert to deflect Kroekrit Thawikan’s shot for a corner.

Any chance the visitors had seemed to evaporate shortly after half-time, when Omar Abdulrahman’s clever through ball released Mabkhout. This time, the forward supplied the finishing touch, drilling his shot high past Kawin Thamsatchanan, the Thailand goalkeeper.

Tails up, the UAE piled forward for a third. Tariq Ahmed, impressive throughout, almost capped off a fine individual display with a goal to cherish, but Kawin palmed away his shot from Salem’s lay-off.

Then, almost out of nowhere, Thailand silenced the majority of the home crowd. With the clock ticking into the 65th minute, Tana found space behind Fawzi on the UAE’s right-hand side, raced clear and finished low past Naser from an acute angle. Sensing an upset, the Thai supporters erupted in joy.

Their players nearly raised the decibels further twice soon after, but Chanabut failed to direct his flick-on from a corner on goal, before he then forced Naser into action. Racing from his line, the Al Ahli goalkeeper did well to block Chanabut’s close-range effort.

By that stage, Mahdi Ali had called Khalil from the bench, a sign the UAE had let slip a comfortable position. Again, though, Thailand looked to exploit the space on the break.

They were close to doing so eight minutes from time, only to be thwarted by the referee’s assistant. Playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin, typically his side’s principal threat, jinked his way into the UAE penalty area and placed a low cross-cum-shot that Naser tipped onto his post. The rebound was prodded home by Chanabut – who else? – but he was correctly adjudged to have been offside.

The Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium drew a collective sigh of relief.

There was still time for Chanabut to spurn yet another opportunity and Khalil to score with the last kick of the match, as the UAE held on for a valuable victory.

It was far from perfect, but their Thailand target has been accomplished. Now, attention switches to Saudi.​

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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Updated: October 6, 2016 04:00 AM

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