UAE forward Ahmad Khalil
UAE forward Ahmad Khalil (second from left) celebrates after scoring a goal during the Asian Cup match against Bahrain at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni must be well aware that they have been saved by the skin of their teeth in their 1-1 draw against Bahrain in the Group A AFC Asian Cup fixture on Saturday.

Opening matches are always difficult but a lacklustre performance that the Whites displayed was mainly because they had not got their combination right, especially in the first half.

The midfield holds the key but to start with the presence of Amer Abdul Rahman, who is never a starter even with his club team Al Ain, raised a few eyebrows.

Ahmad Khalil, the opportunistic striker playing in tandem with Ali Makbhout would have been a treat, but he was brought in nine minutes from time.

Eventually, it was the striker’s penalty conversion that saved the day for UAE after Mohammad Al Romaihi had put the visitors ahead in the 78th minute.

Also veteran striker Esmail Matar, who in the prematch press conference said that he was raring to go, wasn’t given a run in.

“I wish we won the first game in the competition but that didn’t happen. We’ll have to come back stronger if we want to progress from our group,” said Zaccheroni in the post-match press briefing.

“I would like to thank the fans for supporting us tonight. I wish we could have given them a good result at the end but it didn’t happen.”

Zaccheroni accepted that his side couldn’t dominate the way they would have liked.

“We had control of the game in the first 15 minutes. We dominated the middle of the pitch, however, we came short of scoring from the chances we created.

“The Bahrain side played a closed game. We also lost a lot of passes in the first half and when you lose so many, it becomes very difficult to create scoring opportunities.

“In the second half, we couldn’t establish a line and that was because Bahrain were playing a closed game. To create scoring chances, you need to have a good compact line in attack,” said Zaccheroni, adding that they have ‘learnt good lessons’ from this outing and will come up with inspired performance in their next outing against India on Thursday.

“We have four days to work on the areas we need to improve and hopefully produce a better performance. What we lacked on the pitch tonight was the fighting qualities from the players. We will address this when we are preparing for the next game against India and we’ll come with a different attitude,” declared Zaccheroni.

Bahrain coach Miroslav Soukup, despite his side missing out on an opportunity to seal the win, was pleased with his team’s effort. “This game has done a world of good to my team. These are the kind of matches that can give players the confidence they want and it certainly would be a big boost for the remaining games.

“We are happy with the result because it was open game. If someone said to me before the game if we can play for a draw, I would have said it would be a good result for us,” he said.

Soukup added that some might feel that the luck didn’t go their way in the end but the result was satisfactory, given the opponents they were up against. “I would say it wasn’t hard luck because the UAE are a good and strong team. They played well in the first half to put us under pressure.”

“For many of our players, to play in such a big first game was a new experience and the pressure was on them. We couldn’t win full points but I’m not disappointed because we must be realistic that we came for a draw and achieved it.”