Doha: UAE captain Yousef Jaber has urged his men to stay grounded after their 3-0 demolition of Yemen took them to the top of Group A in the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup in Qatar.
Shabab Al Ahli defender Jaber feels it is vital two-time champions UAE — winners at home in 2007 and in Bahrain in 2013 — don’t get carried away on the back of that win. The UAE have been drawn in an otherwise seemingly tough Group A and are yet to face Iraq and Asian champions Qatar. Iraq upset the Asian Cup champions Qatar 2-1 to get the tournament under way.
Bert van Marwijk’s UAE side face Iraq in their next game at Khalifa International Stadium on Friday (kick-off 6.30pm) with both teams level on three points each. While they made a perfect start, a win tomorrow against the Iraqis could take the UAE to the brink of qualifying for the semi-finals.
“The tournament has only just started and there’s a long way to go. Yemen was just the first game and yes those three points were very important for us but we’re already thinking about the next game and hoping to continue this winning run,” Jaber said.
“We cannot rest on our laurels and to be able to move forward, we ought to think of the next game. This means moving all our focus on to Iraq and doing our best to win against them and claim full points.”
Jaber added: “We respect all teams and there are no weak teams in this competition. Yemen were a strong side and put up a good fight but we believe in ourselves and the most important thing for us to pull full points against whoever we play: that’s all what we care about.”
Ali Mabkhout turned in a masterclass late on Tuesday night against Yemen. The UAE’s leading goalscorer in international football, Mabkhout struck twice in the first half and added a third after the break to take his overall tally to 58 goals.
Van Marwijk’s men 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 their 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 broke the deadlock in the 21st minute with Mabkhout popping up jack-in-the box style to deftly nod home Bandar Al Ahbabi’s looping cross from the right.
Mabkhout doubled the UAE’s lead on 36th minute. Bandar met a clever through ball down the right in the box and in turn, he pulled it back for Khalfan Mubarak, whose shot was blocked by defender Ahmed Sadeq, who blocked with a sliding tackle. However, ricochets can be tricky and the ball rolled straight to Mabkhout who made no mistake as he slotted with precision.
Possession figures at half-time showed the UAE very much in control at 58 per cent and the ‘Whites’ made that count with Mabkhout completing his hat-trick in the 55th with another delightful finish.
Collecting from Khalfan Mubarak, Mabkhout weaved past a couple of Yemeni defenders before placing to the left of outstretched Yemen goalkeeper Salem Saeed.
— The writer is a sports journalist based in the UAE