Manama: The UAE became the first team to book their place in the Gulf Cup semi-finals at the National Stadium here on Tuesday night with a 2-1 win over tournament hosts Bahrain.
Ali Mabkhout fired the Group A leaders ahead against the run of play, sweeping up a poor defensive header from a long ball just before the interval.
Spurred on by the home crowd, Bahrain dominated the majority of the match and eventually got a deserved equaliser via Abdul Wahab Al Malood.
But, calm and undeterred by the inhospitable atmosphere, the UAE went on to get a winner five minutes from time when Majed Hassan converted at the back post from Omar Abdul Rahman’s cross.
Following their opening 0-0 draw with Oman, Bahrain now have to rely on the results of other teams, even if they win their last group game with Qatar on Friday.
Ahmad Khalil almost put the UAE ahead straight from the kick-off when he found room at the near post, but he struck the side netting instead of passing to Esmail Salem, who was unmarked in front of goal. An early opener then would have killed Bahraini spirits, but instead the hosts came out of their half and threatened with aerial attacks by Mohammad Hussain and Mohammad Salmeen.
UAE coach Mahdi Ali took Salem off for Esmail Mattar on the half-hour mark in a tactical change, which resulted in Salem skulking off without a handshake for his coach.
But, despite the forward reinforcement, Bahrain were still pushing for chances, with Sami Mohammad unfortunate to have a shot denied from Abdullah Omar’s cross.
Fawzi Aaish then missed the clearest chance for the home side, hitting over the bar despite having worked himself through on goal with only Ali Khaseef to beat.
Moments later, the UAE punished their hosts, against the run of play, when Abdullah Omar poorly headed clear a long ball, allowing Mabkhout through on goal. He rounded Abdullah Marzooq and wrong-footed the keeper to slot home five minutes from the interval, handing the UAE perhaps an unjust 1-0 advantage from the first half.
Mabkhout should have made it two for the UAE straight after the break, but instead he hit wide an easy tap-in from Ahmad Khalil’s right-wing cross.
Bahrain very nearly equalised on the hour, when a scramble in the six-yard box saw Esmail Abdullatif and Mohammad wildly stabbing at a free-for-all in front of a quick-to-react Khaseef.
That chance was just the beginning of another large period of Bahraini dominance, willed on by their now desperate home crowd. Jaycee John struck a volley inside the area straight at the keeper, before the UAE had a rare second half shot, Mabkhout again failing to trouble Bahrain’s keeper Sayed Jaffar.
John again squandered another chance as the UAE’s defence engulfed him, but just as it was looking as though Bahrain were out of luck, Al Malood approached from the right and slotted under Khaseef for the equaliser.
John gave his critics more fuel minutes later with another chance, free on goal, struck wide. And, five minutes before the end, the UAE’s Hassan smashed home a wayward cross from Abdul Rahman.