Abu Dhabi: The UAE extended their success story by beating Vietnam 2-1 at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi on Wednesday to take an early lead in Group E of the qualifiers for the 2015 Asian Cup.
The other match in the group saw favourites Uzbekistan settle for a goalless draw with Hong Kong in Tashkent.
The match in Hanoi was competitive and, although the UAE took an early lead thanks to an Ahmad Khalil penalty, the Vietnamese came back strongly and levelled the scores in the second half. But the UAE scored the winner through Habib Fardan to take a positive stop towards Australia, where the finals will be held in 2015.
Coach Mahdi Ali started with the same line-up that won the final of the Gulf Cup in Bahrain last month. They began on the front foot and were rewarded a penalty after only five minutes, when Omar Abdul Rahman sent Fardan away inside the box. Fardan was fouled and Australian referee Strebre Delovski pointed to the spot, with Khalil blasting the penalty into the top corner.
Ali Mabkhout gave a constant headache to the Vietnamese defenders and he was unfortunate not to score, as two of his attempts were deflected by the post and one was saved by N.T. Binh, the home keeper, who needed to be treated when he blocked Mabkhout’s powerful shot.
Vietnam clawed their way back into the game when the visitors continued to squander the chances that came their way, but Ali Khaseif was in outstanding form to save many dangerous attempts and UAE ended the first half with a single-goal lead.
Le Tan Tai, captain of Vietnam, led a series of fast-attacking moves on the right and made in-roads into the UAE defence. From one such move, in the 59th minute, Tai crossed to H.Q. Anh, who headed home the equaliser via the underside of the bar — the officials hesitated before giving the goal, but the ball had clearly crossed the line.
That goal woke up the visitors and forced them back on to the attack. Nine minutes later, Fardan scored the winner, heading home a corner kick from Amer Abdul Rahman.
Despite the win, the UAE have a bit of hard work to do, particularly in defence, where many gaps appeared and mistakes were committed. They will next face Uzbekistan at home on March 22 and victory in a match that would take them almost half-way towards their objective of featuring in the finals.
In the Uzbek capital on Wednesday, Hong Kong turned up with an injury-depleted squad and the outlook looked even bleaker for Kim Pan-gon’s men when midfielder Lo Kwan-yee was sent off after 58 minutes.
But the visitors held firm against against the Uzbek attack to escape the difficult fixture with a precious point.
Ali Khaseif; Abdul Aziz Sangoor (Walid Abbas, 63), Abdul Aziz Haikal, Mohammad Ahmad, Mohannad Al Enazy; Omar Abdul Rahman (Esmail Al Hammadi, 58), Amer Abdul Rahman, Habib Fardan, Khamis Esmail; Ali Mabkhout, Ahmad Khalil (Majid Hassan, 90).