Doha: Ali Mabkhout turned in a striking masterclass to ensure the UAE beat Yemen 3-0 and romp straight to the Group A summit after the first round of games got the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup underway in Doha.
The UAE’s leading goalscorer in international football struck twice in the first half and added a third after the break to take his overall tally to 58. But he would have hardly been thinking about how high the bar rises with each strike as the UAE went level with Iraq on three points, but took pole in Group A on the basis of a superior goal difference. Iraq had earlier edged hosts and Asian champions Qatar 2-1 in the tournament opener.
Bert van Marwijk’s UAE side outclassed their rivals in all departments, and Yemen may not have had much to show for their efforts, but not for a moment did they seem like a team that had gone winless in seven previous appearances in the competition.
While the UAE’s business was focused on attacking early on, Yemen plied its trade in defence. Both sides worked tenaciously trying to figure the other out and Mabkhout should have done better then drive wide after being found in the Yemen box by a ball from the deep.
The UAE continued to build and a half-hearted Yemeni attempt called Emirates goalkeeper Mohammed Al Shamsi into action for the first time in the 19th as he raced forward to collect a cross from the right.
Three minutes later, the UAE broke the deadlock with Mabkhout popping up jack in the box style to deftly nod home Bandar Al Ahbabi’s looping cross from the right.
Yemen started to flex its muscle at the half hour mark and the mounting pressure won them a freekick in the 34th minute in prime real estate just outside the box in the centre.
However, Abdulwasea Al Matari shot straight into the wall and sent the rebound straight into the hands of Al Shamsi.
The miss proved costly as Mabkhout poached to doubled the UAE’s lead on 36 minutes. Bandar had a ball slipped to him down the right and in turn he pulled it back for Khalfan Mubarak, whose shot was blocked by defender Ahmed Sadeq, who slid to make the block. But ricochets can be tricky and the ball rolled straight to Mabkhout who made no mistake as he slotted with precision inside the right post.
Yemen were down but they weren’t gonna back off and pressed forward determinedly only to let another freekick, this time from the left, sail high over all those eager to make contact inside the UAE box.
Possession figures at half-time showed the UAE very much in control at 58 per cent. The UAE made their possession count after the break as well with Mabkhout completing his hat-trick in the 55th with another delightful finish as he collected from Khalfan Mubarak and weaved past a couple of Yemeni defenders before placing to the left of outstretched Yemen goalkeeper Salem Saeed.
The closest Yemen came to scoring was in the 59th when Al Matari found a bit of space along the right in the UAE box and drove hard at goal only for defender Khalifa Al Hammadi to thwart with a slide.
The ball seemed to have a way of finding Mabkhout and the Jazira hitman could have had a fourth in the 89th, but his impulsive backheel from eight yards out turned out to be easy pickings for Yemen ‘keeper Salem.
The tournament opened with the Mohammad Qasem’s brace firing Iraq to a 2-1 victory over Qatar. Qasem struck in the 18th and 27th minutes, while Abdulaziz Hatem reduced the deficit for Qatar in the 49th.