One down, plenty to go as Bert van Marwijk and the UAE made a winning return to action in their quest to reach the Fifa World Cup in Qatar next year.
After a yo-yo campaign, with upsets and countless delays due to COVID-19, the UAE finally made some inroads in their quest to top Group G by cutting down Malaysia 4-0 in fine style.
Despite the lopsidedness, the scoreline was not as flattering as the display as the UAE peppered the goal of the visitors at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai.
Goal machine Ali Mabkhout grabbed the opening goal on 19 minutes, but — on another day — could easily have had as many as five, with unlucky breaks and fortunate saves and deflections keeping him out.
Fabio de Lima netted the second with 10 minutes to go and secured the vital three points that will get the UAE’s campaign back on track. It was easy street in injury time as Mabkhout and De Lima both doubled their tallies and the Malaysians fell apart at the back.
They are now up to second spot behind leaders Vietnam. Group G rivals Indonesia and Thailand were tied 2-2 at the final whistle, in a result that helped neither team.
There were a few frustrated faces at full time, but a four-goal swing makes the UAE’s goal difference look much healthier, and a trip to Qatar a much more realistic proposition.
Elsewhere, India’s hopes took a hit as they lost 1-0 to Qatar. Abdulaziz Hatem struck the only goal. It was always an uphill task for the ‘home’ side as Rahul Bheke was sent off for India after only 17 minutes in Doha.