A gallant UAE side fell 4-2 to Asian champions Qatar in the final group game of the Gulf Cup at the Khalifa International Stadium on Monday.
Having followed up their 3-0 victory over Yemen with a 2-0 defeat against Iraq last Friday, the UAE’s task was made tougher by a Qatar side who only needed a draw to qualify, while the visitors needed to win to book their spot in the last four.
Qatar striker Akram Afif was the star of the show, firing a brace as the hosts opened a commanding 2-0 lead after 28 minutes.
The Al Sadd attacker, 23, capitalised on a UAE defensive error to slip the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Mohammed Al Shamsi after 21 minutes.
He doubled his advantage seven minutes later, converting from the spot after Qatar were awarded a penalty via VAR for Mohammed Al Menhali’s handball.
The UAE refused to buckle, and prolific forward Ali Mabkhout stepped up to rifle home a penalty on 33 minutes after Bandar Al Ahbabi was chopped down in the box by Qatar netminder Saad Al Sheeb.
Bert van Marwijk’s men showed flashes of brilliance in the second half, but Qatar duly upped the tempo, with Hassan Al Haydos unleashing a powerful strike from seven yards out to make it 3-1.
Far from being over, the UAE continue to push and Mabkhout scored again with 13 minutes remaining.
But Boualem Khoukhi completed the scoring for the winners in extra time, heading home from close range as Qatar advance to the last four.
Afif was the star man and he was also named Asia’s player of the year just before kick-off on Monday.
The Doha man, who made a record 10 assists in Qatar’s run to the Asian Cup title, beat Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and Tomoaki Makino of Japan to the Asian Football Confederation honour.
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