UAE hero Ahmed Khalil looks for 'solutions' after disappointing 2019 Asian Cup opener

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UAE saviour Ahmed Khalil has urged his team-mates to “see the solutions” after the 2019 Asian Cup hosts opened with a fortunate 1-1 draw against Bahrain.

The Whites appeared set for a demoralising loss after stand-in striker Mohamed Al Romaihi’s 78th-minute strike, at the second attempt, before a stunned Zayed Sports City.

However, 2015 AFC Player of the Year Khalil would then rise off the substitutes’ and mark his 100th cap with a calm penalty-kick after fellow replacement Mohamed Marhoon was harshly penalised for a handball.

A buoyant India are up next in Group A on Thursday at the same venue, courtesy of Sunday’s shock 4-1 thrashing of hotly tipped Thailand. This means the UAE must be much improved.

“Today was more important to not lose the game,” the Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club forward said after Saturday’s match. “The good thing is that we came back and the more important is we have to think about next game.

“Every player feels responsible for what’s gone on today and they think about the next game and to hopefully get three points, to see the solutions to get three points.”

Alberto Zaccheroni’s men have been heavily scrutinised in the run-up the tournament after they won just three of 13 matches during 2018.

Khalil, though, refused to blame “pressure” for this poor display.

The 27-year-old said: “It’s not pressure. This is the first game and this is football.

“Sometimes, you maybe don’t play well and you win. But in the tournament you have to give the maximum, you have to fight and you have to work more.

“This is how we came back and we can do it for the next game: see which solutions we go for to get three points and hopefully we come back.”

A victory against India will put the UAE in a strong position to proceed from their pool, either automatically through the top two or as one of four third-placed finishers.

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South Korea search for Son Heung-min stand-in and other Philippines talking points

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There will be no Son Heung-min in sight on Monday when South Korea begin their 2019 Asian Cup-campaign against Sven-Goran Eriksson’s debutants from the Philippines.

This has given ex-Portugal boss Paulo Bento a headache as he tries to press his credentials with a strong start in Group C at Dubai’s lavishly renovated Al Maktoum Stadium.

Here are the talking points ahead of this Group C-clash:

Getting the Hwang of it

Son is Asia’s only true global superstar, but a gentleman’s agreement to avoid national conscription through victory at the summer’s Asian Games means he will not be present until January 16’s pool finale against China.

In the meantime, Hwang Ui-jo looks likely to get the nod up top – potentially in an unorthodox 3-4-2-1 formation.

Unsurprisingly, the 26-year-old is not a like-for-like replacement. His errant side foot from six-yards out helped ensure a goalless final warm-up against Saudi Arabia.

He did, however, score an impressive 16 times in 27 matches during the 2018 J1 League with Gamba Osaka to finish third-top scorer.

Korea’s time is coming?

It is one of football’s longest droughts.

Korea claimed the opening pair of Asian Cups in 1956 and 1960 – and nothing since.

They came exceptionally close in the previous edition under Uli Stielike, losing 2-1 in extra time to hosts Australia. But after nine-consecutive World Cups, this dry spell is an anomaly.

Talent remains in the ranks to end this run, despite serious injuries to creative players in Al Duhail’s Nam Tae-hee and Dijon’s Kwon Chang-hoon.

Now is the time for the likes of 109-cap Ki Sung-yueng and Holsten Kiel midfielder Lee Jae-sung to make good on their talents – beginning with the Philippines.

Are the Azkals all bite and no bark?

The Philippines have banked on experience to guide them through their tournament bow.

Ex-Sampdoria, Lazio and England supremo Eriksson is an iconic name, albeit one on the decline now aged 70. But since his October arrival on a short-term deal, he’s spoken of being invigorated by the challenge.

A fourth semi-final in five tournaments at the winter’s AFF Suzuki Cup was a decent achievement for the basketball-mad nation.

Hopes of building on this performance, however, are tempered by the absence of Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.

Against Korea, the knowledge of K-League stalwart Alvaro Silva will be vital at centre-back.

But their defining fixtures come against China and Kyrgyzstan. Progression as one of the four-best third-placed finishers is a viable proposition.

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Stephen Constantine's half-time team talk inspires India to thumping win in Asian Cup

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India were dominant in their Asian Cup opener.

India kicked off their Asian Cup campaign in style, getting their first win in the competition since 1964 as they blew Thailand away in the second half en route to a 4-1 victory.

Two goals from Sunil Chhetri plus sumptuous finishes from Anirudh Thapa and Jeje Lalpekhlua helped India get over a poor first half display and go top of their group.

Here’s a look at the talking points from the Group A-encounter.

INDIA’S SECOND-HALF BLUEPRINT SENDS WARNING

India were somewhat lucky to go into the break with the scores level. Their penalty was fortunate, their defence was poor enough that they could have easily conceded more than the one goal they did, and overall, though they are ranked 20 places higher, they were easily the worse side in the first half.

Thailand had all the time in the world in midfield, and India’s goal came against the run of play.

Whatever manager Stephen Constantine said at half-time completely changed the game. India came out with a renewed purpose in the second half, swarming their opponents with an energy and intensity that had been missing in the opening period.

It helped that they scored within a minute, forcing Thailand to come out and attack and allowing India to play on the counter. But even that was an indication of the difference in intent, as their desire to take the game by the scruff of its neck stunned Thailand. That they scored a third and fourth came as no surprise based on their second-half performance.

If India can replicate this over a full game against the UAE on Thursday, especially that fast start, the hosts will be in trouble.

Stephen Constantine inspired an improved second-half display.

Stephen Constantine inspired an improved second-half display.

CHHETRI GETS THE GOALS BUT ASHIQUE THE STAR

Fun fact: Sunil Chhetri now has more international goals than Lionel Messi.

The Indian talisman’s brace here took his tally to 67, after he started the game level with Messi on 65.

Chhetri’s status as India’s greatest-ever footballer has already been cemented, and Sunday’s brace only added to the legend, helping India to a win that took them to the top of their group and put them in a strong position to qualify to the next round, given that UAE and Bahrain could only manage a draw.

But on Sunday, he owed a debt to a surprise starter, and Constantine for making a gutsy call.

Lalpekhlua has been one of India’s rising stars over the last four years, but he hadn’t scored for the national team in ten months.

So Constantine took the decision to drop him and play Ashique Kuruniyan alongside Chhetri, and it proved to be an inspired choice. The 21-year-old ran the channels well, harried Thailand’s defenders throughout, and was impressive with his link-up play with his legendary strike partner.

For good measure, Lalpekhlua came on and scored as a substitute. But the way the Chhetri-Kuruniyan partnership flourished will have left Constantine feeling vindicated.

Ashique Kuruniyan made the difference for India on Sunday.

Ashique Kuruniyan made the difference for India on Sunday.

THAILAND LEFT TO RUE MISSED OPPORTUNITY

A win would have been an upset for Thailand based on the rankings, but it wouldn’t have been entirely unexpected – India last won against Thailand in 1986.

And the way they settled into the game in the first half, after a nervy start, would have given them confidence. They had the India defence scrambling at times, forced Gurpreet Singh Sandhu into a superb point-blank save, and probably should have scored more than once.

That their lone goal was an equaliser will also rankle, not just because India scored almost out of nothing, but also because the penalty awarded against Theerathon Bunmathan was debatable – the ball ricocheting onto his hand from barely a yard away.

It was to their credit that they got over that quickly, continued to dominate, and got a goal, but they will wonder what could have been, had they converted their dominance into more goals and not gotten the wrong end of the stick with a refereeing decision.

As the lowest-ranked side in the group, Thailand need those breaks to go their way in order to have any hopes of qualifying for the knockout. On Sunday, they didn’t.

The breaks didn't go Thailand's way.

The breaks didn’t go Thailand’s way.

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