UAE supporters hold up their national flag as they watch the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Group A football match against India at Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi on January 10, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

Winning play by: UAE

Hosts UAE riding on a goal each in either half from Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout registered a hard fought win against a resilient India, who muffed at least four clear cut chances, in the Group ‘A’ fixture at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on Thursday.

With this win UAE have moved to the top of the group with four points with a match in hand against Thailand. The Blue Tigers, who have three points from their win in the first match against Thailand, need at least a draw against Bahrain to fancy any chance of going through to the round of 16.

At half-time

Abu Dhabi: Khaflan Mubarak has put hosts UAE in the lead at half-time with a 41st minute strike against India in the Group ‘A’ fixture at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on Thursday.

Ali Mabkout reaching out to a long ball from the deep and then setting it up for an overlappingMubarak, who chipped it over a rooted Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh to find the goal.

UAE'S Khaflan Mubarak celebrates scoring their first goal against India. Image Credit: Reuters

India started off positively but missed at least three clear-cut scoring opportunities. Their captain Sinil Chhetri was electrifying on the field but saw his efforts being denied by UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa.

India and UAE
UAE’s Ahmad Khalil (left) and India’s Sunil Chhetri will be the key to their teams’ fortunes. Image Credit: AP

Today’s Asian Cup group match between the UAE and India in Abu Dhabi from 8pm would have been a foregone conclusion coming into the competition.

The UAE are not only the tournament hosts, enjoying home crowd support, but they are also ranked 18 positions higher than India in the world, and have a better head-to-head record against the Blue Tigers, winning eight out of the last 13 meetings together since 1979.

After the first set of group games this week however — where India romped four past Thailand to win 4-1, and the UAE recorded a meek 1-1 draw against Bahrain — trying to predict the outcome of this match is beginning to get a lot harder.

The UAE had only won two of their last 10 games coming into this tournament, and they are without injured talisman Omar Abdul Rahman and the man everyone tipped as his successor Rayan Yaslam — both are injured.

India, meanwhile, high on confidence from their 4-1 opening win, are looking more and more like springing an upset, especially against a below-par UAE side, who, even at home, may get intimidated by India’s vast and vocal expatriate support.

Pundits are saying this game is make or break for the UAE, as defeat would almost certainly put them out of the tournament. It might not however, as a high-scoring win in their last group game against Thailand on January 14, could still see them qualify as one of the four best third-place finishers, depending on other results.

What it would do, however, is damage pride heading into that match, especially in a game between two countries who are so intrinsically linked, with over two million Indians living in the UAE. Although India isn’t an Arab neighbour, it effectively feels like a derby what with that potentially huge Indian expatriate support.

An Indian win would definitely confirm their progression to the next round of the competition for the first time in 55-years. So, there’s an awful lot riding a game that would have previously been waved off as one-way traffic.