The UAE's Caio Jr battles with Iraq's defender Ahmed Khalaf during the 2022 Qatar World Cup Asian Qualifiers at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai
The UAE's Caio Jr battles with Iraq's defender Ahmed Khalaf during the 2022 Qatar World Cup Asian Qualifiers at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai Image Credit: AFP

The UAE suffered another setback in their Qatar 2022 World Cup quest as they were held to a thrilling 2-2 draw by Iraq at Zabeel Stadium in Dubai on Tuesday night in their third-round Group A clash.

Caio Jr struck first on 34 minutes to sent the packed stadium into celebration mode. However, an own goal from Mohammed Al Attas and a late strike from Aymen Hussein put Iraq ahead. Goal machine Ali Mabkhout levelled in injury time, but a point does little to help the UAE’s chances of progress, following their loss to Iran last Thursday.

After a frustrating first 25 minutes in which the visitors more than held their own — causing UAE goalkeeper Ali Khaseif a couple of moments of concerns — the hosts found another gear and began to pressure the Iraq goal.

Moments after a great save by Iraq goalkeeper Fahad Talib from Mabkhout, the UAE pressure payed off as a sustained period of possession around the Iraq area led to the ball finding its way to Caio on the left hand side of the goal thanks to a great touch from Abdulla Salmeen, and the naturalised Brazilian buried it past Talib.

Iraq were far from done and pushed back to create a couple of chances of their own before the break, but the UAE defence stood firm and led 1-0 at the interval.

Iraq continued their search for an equaliser at the start of the second 45 and skipper Ala’a Abdul Zahra saw his free-kick skip just past Khaseif’s right-hand post on 50 minutes.

However, only five minutes later, Mabkhout thought he had put the UAE 2-0 up but his effort went just the wrong side of Talib’s upright.

A thunderous Ali Faez Atiyah free-kick produced a brilliant stop from Khaseif as the home crowd grew a little more anxious, with 30 minutes still to play.

UAE coach Bert van Marwijk and his counterpart — former UAE, Netherlands and Rangers coach Dick Advocaat — were animated on the touchlines as this match was still in the balance as it reached the final 20 minutes.

Mabkhout had a great chance to ease those UAE nerves as he broke clear, but fired straight at Talib.

Disaster struck when a harmless-looking cross from Amir Al-Ammari evaded everyone and caught the top of Al Attas’ head and then nestled in the bottom corner of the UAE net on 74 minutes, much to the dismay of Van Marwijk on the touchline.

Worse was to come as Hussein struck on 87 minutes, ripping off his shirt in wild celebration. The UAE showed great resilience to fight back and Mabkhout levelled on 92 minutes. There were a host of chances for the home side to grab a winner but Talib stood up to every effort, to ensure the visitors escaped with a point. The tears on the UAE players’ faces at the final whistle illustrated the damage that had been done.

Earlier, group leaders South Korea and Iran played out a 1-1 draw. Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s late header cancelled out Son Heung-min’s opener in Tehran.

Iran lead on 10 points, two ahead of South Korea, with the UAE now way back on three, with four games to play.

Syria were stunned 3-2 by Lebanon in Amman, to take the visitors up to five points.

The group winners and second-placed sides automatically qualify for Qatar 2022, while the third-placed side enter a play-off against the third-placed side from Group B, in which Saudi Arabia lead from Australia. The winners of that contest will then enter a final intercontinental play-off.