Manama: UAE coach Mahdi Ali hailed his side’s scrappy win over hosts as the biggest positive in going forward in the Gulf Cup despite a none too impressive performance on Tuesday night.
The 2-1 counter-attacking win at a packed and inhospitable National Stadium confirmed the UAE as the first team in the eight-nation format to have booked their slot in the semi-finals, having earlier opened with a 3-1 over Qatar on Saturday. This makes their last group game with Oman tomorrow academic.
Up against a vocal and unwavering home support, Ali’s men showed maturity beyond their years and stayed calm to counter a continual onslaught from the Bahraini’s, who saw countless chances go begging.
Ali Mabkhout put the visitors ahead before the interval, against the run of play, when Abdullah Omar poorly headed clear a long ball. This put Mabkhout through on goal and he comfortably rounded his marker Abdullah Marzooq before slotting past keeper Sayed Jaffar.
Bahrain eventually got a deserved equaliser via Abdulwahab Al Malood, whose tight near post shot went under the arms of Ali Khaseef with 15 minutes to spare.
The Emiratis punished a wasteful Bahrain at the whistle when Majed Hassan wrapped up the win, converting at the back post from Omar Abulrahman’s cross and Esmail Mattar’s spilled shot.
Ali said: “I congratulate the Bahraini team who put on a great performance. Coach Calderon studied the game well, and closed spaces in front of us, but we managed to grab a win even though we were not at our best.
“Games like this could go either way and it really just depends on whether it’s your day or not. Thankfully it was our day and to grab a winner at the end like that was a beautiful thing. It’s a credit to the UAE that they didn’t rest, defended well and they took their chances when they came.”
Ali added: “It’s a great thing to succeed in overcoming the home team, who played in front of their own crowd, even though we didn’t offer a lot, and we had great difficulty because of the huge presence of their support.
“I think today warned us of what to expect in terms of the atmosphere and strength of upcoming Gulf opponents and it was a good experience for our young players. Hopefully, they will learn from this and take confidence going forward in the competition.”
Having seen what each team in Group A now has to offer, Ali said: “I think we’ll be promoted out of the group with either Qatar or Bahrain. This is based on the level shown by both teams so far. It’s not an understatement of Oman and it does not mean we will approach our third group game against Oman lightly.
“We will play Oman to win because we approach all games with honesty and honour in the spirit of the competition.”