Ahmed Khalil comes off bench to rescue UAE in report card from Bahrain opener

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Substitute Ahmed Khalil, on his 100th cap, netted an 88th-minute penalty kick to save hosts UAE from a losing start to the 2019 Asian Cup against Bahrain.

After a first half of very few chances on Sunday at Zayed Sports City, stand-in striker Mohamed Al Romaihi lashed in at the second attempt on 78 minutes. A shameful Group A- opening appeared to be on, before replacement Mohamed Marhoon’s handball was harshly punished and Khalil did the rest to earn an unsettling 1-1 draw.

GOOD

Khalil comes good

After several seasons to forget, a moment of joy for Khalil – and the grateful UAE.

The 2015 AFC Player of the Year has scored just five Arabian Gulf League goals since summer 2017’s failed free transfer to Al Jazira. But the Whites kept faith in a player struggling, badly, for form and fitness.

Under-pressure coach Alberto Zaccheroni turned to him, instead of veteran Ismail Matar. A calm penalty straight down the middle justified this call.

Bahrain are on the right track

Head coach Miroslav Soukup’s rebuilding job moved a few steps forward on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi.

A three-match winless run coming into this match showed the value of the youth football expert’s work, but this draw handed validation to the Czech’s revolution.

Progression to the knockouts for the first time since 2004 is an attainable goal.

BAD

UAE’s chickens come home to roost

Well, no-one connected to the UAE camp can credibly argue this wasn’t predictable.

Denied a precious early breakthrough because of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club winger Ismail Al Hammadi’s errant effort, a stodgy remainder of the match was played out. Ali Mabkhout’s glaring miss came from a poorly defended corner and the leveller was incredibly fortunate.

For their previous 18 matches, Bahrain had not kept a clean sheet at the Asian Cup. A 19th should have followed.

The statistics for Zaccheroni’s grim reign now reads: six wins, eight losses, five draws.

Top spot is anything but assured.

What could have been with Helal?

This was the injury that Bahrain most feared.

Brand-new Slavia Prague signing Abdulla Yusuf Helal – in a move that should be food for thought for UAE opposite number Ali Mabkhout – missed out on the starting XI because of injury in the final, and promising, 4-0 friendly beating of North Korea.

Replacement Al Romaihi scored the opener and impressed. Greedy maybe, but imagine what the usual starting No9 would have done to the uncertain hosts?

KEY MOMENTS

6th min CHANCE: Al Hammadi turns on the afterburners and charges into the penalty box, but his miscued shot curls agonisingly wide.

44th min CHANCE: Hearts are in mouths from the home crowd as Al Riffa midfielder Komail Al Aswad appears to pick out a perfect free-kick. But his effort just floats over from 20 yards.

53rd min CHANCE: Ali Madan unleashes a swerving shot from 30 yards that Club World Cup hero Khalid Essa spills to Al Romaihi, but he redeems himself with a block.

68th min CHANCE: The ball spins to 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Ali Mabkhout. Yet somehow, the predator drags his shot wide. Unbelievable.

78th min GOAL: Right-back Sayed Redha Isa floats in a cross that Al Romaihi first hits the woodwork off, via Khalifa Mubarak, and then slots in the opener. Stunning.

88th min PENALTY: There is confusion around the ground when the Jordanian referee points to the penalty spot. A harsh handball is punished by Khalil. 1-1.

TACTICAL TALKING POINT

Zaccheroni shows, belated, flexibility

Of all the things Zaccheroni can be accused of, it can’t be said he wasn’t aware of his failings.

A trio of defensively minded midfielders in Khamis Esmail (oddly stationed on the right flank), Ali Salmeen and Amer Abdulrahman did not help the situation. Neither the confused role of playmaker/winger Khalfan Mubarak in a 4-4-1-1.

The ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan supremo would turn to his bench before the hour mark and bring on link-man Mohamed Abdulrahman and winger Saif Rashed. Fellow replacement Khalil would come up with the goods from the penalty spot.

Plenty to ponder with India next up on Thursday.

VERDICTS

UAE – C

The phrase ‘must do better’ defined this soporific opener from the hosts.

Mabkhout had little to feed on, and when a chance arose, he snatched at it. Boss Zaccheroni has much work still to do.

BAHRAIN – B+

Damningly for the UAE, Bahrain did not have to be outstanding to come away with a point.

They defended well through the likes of Sayed Dhiya Saeed and stand-in striker Al Romaihi did the business.

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TAG Heuer is The Official Timekeeper of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019

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TAG Heuer is official timekeeper for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019

TAG Heuer is The Official Timekeeper of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 which started today in Abu Dhabi. From January 5th to February 1st, 24 teams across Asia, including Australia will be competing in the UAE, until the Final in Abu Dhabi.

“It’s an honour and a real pleasure to welcome the prestigious championship AFC Asia Cup in the UAE “ said Paul Boissonnet, TAG Heuer Brand Director, “TAG Heuer has always been associated to performance, to challenges, and to never cracking under pressure. During the upcoming month, we will proudly bring our timekeeping expertise and our support to the amazing players and teams competing for the victory”.

Dato’ Windsor John, the AFC General Secretary, said: “We are pleased to be working with TAG Heuer, the official timekeeper for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019. Every minute is vital in a football match and as the AFC’s Vision and Mission is to enhance our competitions that includes having world renowned partners on board.”

“The AFC’s competitions continue to deliver the highest levels of competitiveness and excitement, with more and more fans watching in the stadiums and on television as well as engaging through social media. It is a testament to the strength of the game in Asia that we have agreed to this partnership with TAG Heuer.”

TAG Heuer, with its long history of supporting football across the world, has brought its timekeeping expertise to prestigious championships and teams, including amongst others Premier League, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and Manchester United in Europe. True to its #DontCrackUnderPressure motto, the brand has also brought its avant-garde and disruptive spirit to this universe, introducing concepts such as Ligue 1 fastest goal and Premier League Pressure Tests.

Founded in 1954, AFC is committed to the development of football in Asia by enhancing the link between football countries in Asia. Nationally and internationally renowned for maintaining highest levels and quality of play, it is today a global benchmark and the most influential football association for Asian football.

Both partners boast extensive experience in their field and trust in the importance of accuracy and precision in timekeeping. Every second counts both for the watch brand and for every player, as one minute can be decisive in turning over the scoreboard. With this new partnership, AFC is adopting the philosophy of the Swiss watch brand, summed up in its tagline Don’t Crack Under Pressure, to strengthen its teams and to ensure that they don’t crack under pressure even during the most stressful moments of each of the matches lined up next season.

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2019 Asian Cup: Son is one to watch in team profiles for Groups C and D

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A landmark 24 teams will compete in the biggest-ever Asian Cup from January 5-February 1.

The tournament in the UAE brings together a diverse collection of nations, from strong contenders Iran and South Korea to minnows like Yemen and Kyrgyzstan.

Here are the profiles of the sides from Groups C and D:

GROUP C

South Korea

Star player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham)

Coach: Paulo Bento

Despite a memorable win over Germany at the World Cup, South Korea exited at the group stage in Russia. The often unnecessarily defensive tactics of Uli Stielike held back a team with so many strengths and quality players.

Under Paulo Bento, Korea have adopted a more attacking style boosted by the influx of youth. There’s plenty of reasons for optimism but the absences of Kwon Chang-hoon, Nam Tae-hee and Jang Hyun-soo may prove costly while this tournament may have come a little too soon for Bento.

Best result: Champions 1956, 1960

Verdict: Runners-up

South Korea

South Korea

China

Star player: Wu Lei (Shanghai SIPG)

Coach: Marcello Lippi

The desperate appointment of Marcello Lippi to save their qualification campaign has left them with little chance of thriving at the tournament itself. The Italian’s loyalty to an aging group of players has made for a stale squad with young talent denied opportunities as Lippi is set to step down after the competition in UAE.

Their preparations for the Asian Cup have been below par, with draws against India and Palestine particularly concerning. Wu Lei could be a bright spark but Lippi has struggled to fit in the prolific forward.

Best result: Runners-up 1984, 2004

Verdict: Round of 16

China

China

Kyrgyzstan

Star player: Bakhtiyar Duyshobekov (Bashundhara Kings)

Coach: Aleksandr Krestinin

Kyrgyzstan have come a long way in recent years to make their Asian Cup bow. Aleksandr Krestinin is credited for organising the team well defensively and forging a solid unit, but of late he has led them into the next phase of their development – improving the attacking side of their game.

They boast a decent front three while holding midfielder Bakhtiyar Duyshobekov is pivotal to their chances. However, Anton Zemlianukhin – their chief marksman – is struggling for fitness. Ultimately, a simple lack of quality is likely to expose them.

Best result: First qualification

Verdict: Group stage exit

Kyrgystan

Kyrgystan

Philippines

Star player: Neil Etheridge (Cardiff City)

Coach: Sven-Goran Eriksson

Still minnows but there’s cause for optimism as they make their debut in the competition. The Philippines have made great strides over the last decade and impressed during their unsuccessful World Cup qualification campaign which included victories over Bahrain and Yemen.

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s appointment in October, taking over from interim boss Scott Cooper, has come as a surprise. However, with Cooper staying on as assistant, the transition has been smooth and the Swede does lend excellent tournament experience.

Best result: First qualification

Verdict: Group stage exit

Neil Etheridge

Neil Etheridge

GROUP D

Iran

Star player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan)

Coach: Carlos Queiroz

As the most dominant team in Asia over the last four years, Iran gave an excellent account of themselves at the 2018 World Cup, narrowly losing out to Spain and Portugal in the battle to advance from Group B.

Their tactical discipline, attacking intent and fearlessness won over neutrals and expectations will be high in the UAE. They’re among the favourites after obliterating oppositions in qualifying, taking 40 points from a possible 48. They have quality, depth and with Carlos Queiroz at the helm, are well organised.

Best result: Champions in 1968, 1972, 1976

Verdict: Semi-finals

Iran.

Iran.

Iraq

Star player: Hussein Ali (Qatar SC)

Coach: Srecko Katanec

Iraq have had six managers since the last edition but such instability and general chaos is their norm. They were hit hard in 2018 by controversy over the ages of some of their players.

There have been rifts within the squad while Srecko Katanec’s tinkering with formations has been less than ideal. But the Lions won this tournament while their country was torn apart by war in 2007. Despite everything, expect a fighting display from a team that boasts a nucleus of talented players.

Best result: Champions in 2007

Verdict: Quarter-finals

Iraq

Iraq

Vietnam

Star player: Nguyen Quang Hai (Hanoi FC)

Coach: Park Hang-seo

Emotions, and confidence, are high in the Vietnamese camp following a stellar 2018 that included a Suzuki AFF Cup triumph. The emergence of several youth players has breathed new life into the squad, which is one of the youngest at the Asian Cup.

While the team has retained some crucial senior players who provide balance and experience, new coach Park Hang-seo has tailored the team’s playing style of fast-paced attacks to the vibrant youngsters at their disposal.

Best result: Quarter-finals 2007

Verdict: Group stage exit

Vietnam.

Vietnam.

Yemen

Star player: Abdulwasea Al-Matari (Dibba Al-Hisn)

Coach: Jan Kocian

Yemen’s success in qualifying for their first Asian Cup is a welcome distraction for a country disrupted by civil war and disease. They only won six of their 18 games in qualifying, scoring 16 goals and conceding 23.

Preparations ahead of the tournament have been poor with the lack of games played a genuine concern. Little is expected from them in the UAE but they remain committed and formidable opponents with far more to play for than points on the board.

Best result: First qualification

Verdict: Group stage exit

Yemen

Yemen

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