Dubai: The UAE’s mission to qualify for the World Cup 2022 became a whole lot tougher as they came up short in Vietnam in their vital Group G clash in Hanoi on Thursday evening, losing 1-0 after Khalifa Al Hammadi was sent off for the visitors.
Bert Van Marwijk’s side were missing their all-time top scorer Ali Mabkhout through suspension, and his absence was felt in the opening 15 minutes as the men in white struggled to find a way through the stout Vietnamese defence.
Omar Abdul Rahman looked like he was on a mission to prove his doubters wrong after he came in for some criticism following a lacklustre display in the 2-1 loss to Thailand last time out. Some telling passes from midfield showed he still had his magic touch.
Bandar Al Ahbabi — filling in for Mabkhout — thought he was through on goal on 24 minutes after a wonderful long ball from Abdul Rahman, but the offside flag was up.
Another long ball from Abdul Rahman found Al Ahbabi in space, but he could only should straight at Dang Van Lam in the Vietnam goal.
The UAE had to be wary of the fast-breaking attacks from Vietnam. On a number of occasions, the defence had to look alert as Nguyen Van Toan threatened on the right flank.
The home side grew in confidence as half-time approached and Nguyen Tien Linh should have done better from close range with the goal at his mercy.
Then the UAE were dealt a hammer blow just before the break as Al Hammadi was shown a straight red for a foul on Tien Linh, as he was deemed to be the last defender.
The numerical advantage told almost immediately as Tien Linh fired home a thunderous strike over Khalid Eisa to open the scoring.
With their tails up, the home side went for the killer second goal after the restart. But their pressing left gaps at the back, and again it was Abdul Rahman pulling the strings as the UAE went in search of an equaliser. A majestic turn and pass found Al Ahbabi and his low cross flashed across the goal with no one there to provide the finishing touch.
The visitors did not look like they had only 10 men as Van Lam had to look lively to halt a cross from Mohammad Al Menhali on 70 minutes with UAE strikers lurking behind him.
Players on both sides visibly tired in the Hanoi humidity as the clock ticked past 80 minutes and the tempo of the game fell.
There was time for one last chance for Nguyen Quang Hoito get on the scoresheet, but he placed his shot wide.
The UAE — four points behind Group G leaders Vietnam and one behind Thailand, who were beaten 2-1 in Malaysia — will need to pick up their game in the remaining four matches if they are to make it through to the final stage of qualifying, where the task just gets tougher.