Abu Dhabi: UAE rallied from a goal down to pull out a 1-1 draw in the dying minutes against Bahrain in the Group ‘A’ opening fixture of the AFC Asian Cup at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on Saturday. At half-time, the scoreboard read 0-0.
For Bahrain, Mohammed Al Romaihi scored while Ahmed Khalil drew level through a penalty for UAE.
UAE started off positively but then there was a sudden dip in their performance and their lack of co-ordination came to the fore. It was surprising to see coach Alberto Zaccheroni not start with striker Khalil and mid-fielder Mohammed Abdul Rahman. Key defender Ismail Ahmed's absence due to injury also made the backline brittle.
Just six minutes into play, mid-fielder Ismail Al Hammadi made a defense splitting run from the left and only had the lone on-rushing Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Shubbar Alawi to beat. However, Al Hammadi’s final touches eluded him as the ball went just wide of the far post.
Then minutes later, Ali Mabkhout, who scored the fastest goal in 14 seconds during the 2015 Asian Games group fixture against Bahrain, saw one of his attempts following a long ball from Amer Abdul Rahman, grace past the goal.
The first noteworthy move from Bahrain came in the 25th minute and that also from a poor clearance from Mabkhout. Al Romaihi rose high to nod the ball but couldn’t direct it to perfection.
Thereafter, it was some aimless football from either sides. Both failing to create any constructive moves that could threaten each other's defenses. The drab affair saw the teams lose control of the ball cheaply with the action mainly confined to mid-field duel.
Just before the breather, a left-footed effort from a free-kick by Bahrain’s Komail Al Aswad, from way outside the box, sailed just over the framework.
After the change of ends, Bahrain came close to scoring with Ali Jaafar Madan unleashing a left-footed effort from the top of the box. Though goalkeeper Khalid Eisa blocked that effort, the rebound landed on the foot of an overlapping Al Romaihi and the former again had to show quick reflexes to keep the second attempt out.
The mid-field started to function effectively once Mohammed Abdul Rahman replaced Amer Abdul Rahman in the 54th minute.
Those deft passes that were missing suddenly started to come through and in the 65th minute a Mohammed Abdul Rahman triggered move almost bore fruit. He found Al Hammadi, who then set it for Saif Rashid and though the release from latter found Mabkhout, the resultant side volley just went wide.
Bahrain then struck in the 78th minute against the run of play through Al Romaihi who shot home on the rebound following a cross from Sayed Redha. Immediately after that a powerpacked effort from Rashid was kept out by Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Shubbar.
The hosts then clawed their way back into the match through a penalty in the 88th minute. A high ball hit the hand of Mohammed Jasim Marhoon and the referee pointed it out to the spot. And Khalil, who came in place of Khamis Esmaeel in the 81st minute, slotted it home with ease to save the day for the hosts.