Defending champions Australia made their worst ever start to an Asian Cup on Sunday when underdogs Jordan pulled off a shock 1-0 victory in front of a partisan crowd in Al Ain.
Graham Arnold’s youthful side – shorn of Aaron Mooy and Daniel Arzani through injury – were hot favourites to triumph in the Group B-opener at Hazza bin Zayed Stadiun, but they were undone by Al Faisaly centre-back Anas Bani-Yaseen’s powerful first-half header from a corner.
After the interval, FC Midtjylland winger Awer Mebil rocked the upright with a shot and Perth Glory forward Chris Ikonomidis had a header scrambled off the line as Arnold’s men tried in vain to level.
The result leaves the injury-hit Aussies with much to ponder ahead of Friday’s clash against Palestine, when they will need a win to get their defence on track. For Jordan, they next meet dark horses Syria on Thursday.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.