The UAE won for the first time at the 2019 Asian Cup, star talents Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout the scorers in a 2-0 win over India.
The Blue Tigers were the better side for large parts, but a fine opening was undone when Al Jazira colleagues Mubarak and Mabkhout combined for the former to put the Whites ahead before the break.
India were again industrious and dangerous after the break, but faded a little and the UAE sealed victory late on with Mabkhout grabbing a killer second goal.
Here we look at the game’s talking points.
BATMAN AND ROBIN ARE UAE’S SUPERHEROES
Ali Mabkhout has long been one of the UAE’s main poster boys, alongside Omar Abdulrahman. One of the biggest gripes in recent years though has been the apparent refusal or inability to recognise the ability of his Al Jazira team-mate Khalfan Mubarak – long proclaimed as the future of the national team.
His goal proved the turning point in this pulsating encounter – but one wonders if he would’ve been on the field to score it had Amoory not been ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury.
Alberto Zaccheroni is not known as a champion of pretty football. But it was a beautiful move that led to the opening goal, with the hard-working Mabkhout holding up play and teeing up Mubarak, who showed lovely feet to outwit Anirudh Thapa and Anas Edathodika and send a clipped finish high past Gurpreet Singh.
It’s a partnership that has routinely combined to devastating effect for the Pride of Abu Dhabi this season – Jazira sit second in the Arabian Gulf League, three points behind leaders Sharjah.
Their 37 goals is bettered by no one, with 62 per cent of them scored by either Mabkhout (15) or Mubarak (eight). The deadly duo account for 38 per cent of assists (Mabkhout has four, Mubarak 10).
That it was Mabkhout setting up Mubarak for the Whites’ opening goal last night was uncommon but not unusual. Mabkhout predictably leads the AGL in goalscoring but has set up two of Mubarak’s eight goals. The 23-year-old midfielder has laid on a third (five) of Mabkhout’s goals.
Can the UAE win a maiden Asian Cup on home soil? That remains to be seen. The UAE are hardly scintillating viewing under Zaccheroni, but with this dynamic duo on the field, anything seems possible.
INSPIRATIONAL INDIA HARD DONE BY
Mesmeric in their opening 4-1 thrashing of Thailand four days earlier, India were no less entertaining and enterprising here in defeat.
Stephen Constantine’s side might have been defeated, but the coach would have been elated with their constant energy and ingenuity.
Roared on by a vociferous sea of blue shirted supporters in the crowd throughout the 90 minutes, their fans deserved a goal as much as the team.
Impressive in defeat they may have been, but Constantine and Co will also wonder how they failed to take anything away from the game – they harried and harangued ageing Whites centre-back Ismail Ahmed, the veteran Al Ain defender stretched to his vert limits by India’s pacy and predatory attackers.
The UAE faded after a bright start and Khalid Essa was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers in the first half, forced to make two smart stops, first from Ashique Kuruniyan who brought a fine one-handed save out of the Boss custodian.
Minutes later he repelled Sunil Chhetri’s fearsome header, although he was a bystander when the best move of the game saw Udanta Singh thump the underside of the bar.
India were even robbed of the consolation their efforts were at least deserving of when Sandesh Jhingan’s stoppage time header again thudded against the bar.
But they must remember this is not the end of their tournament. The result leaves them second in Group B and still in the driving seat for an automatic berth for the round of 16, especially with winless Bahrain left to play.
There’s plenty of bite left in the Blue Tigers, who will give any opponent in the knockout stages a roaring good game.
UAE CLINICAL WHILE INDIA IMPRESS
The UAE were far from flawless but they were, above anything else, clinical. While India deservedly earned plaudits for the way they took the game to hosts 18 places above them in the FIFA world rankings, it is the Whites who head into the final group game top of the table and favourites to remain there.
Constantine argued after the game the least his side deserved was a draw, and he was right. Twice hitting the woodwork and twice bringing fine stops out of Essa. But lose they still did, and after throwing themselves into the game and attacking the home side constantly in the first half, they sadly ran out of steam in the second half.
The UAE were under siege for large parts of the game, but they also showed all their experience in repelling their opponents and as the Blue Tigers faded, they pounced to seal the win late on through the dangerous Mabkhout.
Veteran defender Ahmed, 33, at times was marshalling a ragged-looking backline, used all his nous to snuff out chances for the wily Chhetri and an exciting looking India attack all game, even though he at times looked off the pace.
As Chhetri and his colleagues ran out of steam in the dying embers of the game, Ahmed was calm and composed as he cleverly urged his side forward, looking for the killer goal rather than sitting and protecting what they had, knowing India had the ability to grab an equaliser.
The future is bright judging by the promising talents on show at Asian Cup 2019.
From the landmark 24 teams that are competing in the biggest-ever edition from January 5-February 1, several prospects stand out.
From Europe-based rookies to domestic gems, here are our choices for young players – aged 23 or under – to watch:
A coming of age has been experienced by Mubarak, 23, in 2018/19. The joyous Al Jazira playmaker has notched a leading 10 Arabian Gulf League assists this term, meaning Whites boss Alberto Zaccheroni could no longer ignore his claims. This form became especially pertinent when Amoory succumbed to a serious knee injury. But the apprentice’s quest to become a master got off to a false start when hooked early in the 1-1 draw with Bahrain.
Musa Al Taamari
All eyes were on the prodigiously gifted winger, 21, when Jordan kicked-off against Australia on January 6. A burgeoning reputation has been earned by a stellar opening at APOEL, where seven goals have been struck in 10 Cypriot First Division games. Tentative shouts about the ‘next Mohamed Salah’ have appeared. Although these appeared premature after a poor display in victory against the Socceroos.
A bright future is guaranteed for the 22-year-old Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors centre-back. The issue now is where that will be. A lucrative move to Beijing Guoan is yet to be sealed, leaving the possibility of a European switch still – slightly – open. Kim has it all; strong in the tackle, nimble in possession and quick in the transition. A big tournament beckons.
Nguyen Quang Hai
Quang Hai is at the vanguard of a youthful Vietnam side challenging all perceptions about them. The 21-year-old midfielder was the lifeblood of this month’s AFF Suzuki Cup success, being named Most Valuable Player after the fight back in the finals against Malaysia. With so much pace, poise and perception, this is a prospect to watch – at the Asian Cup and beyond.
Hosseini was on the periphery for Iran, before injury to first-choice centre-back Rouzbeh Cheshmi propelled him into the starting XI at World Cup 2018. Since the near miss for the round of 16 in Russia, he’s become a rock for both Team Melli and new employers Trabzonspor of Turkey. With composure on the ball that belies his 22 years, he boasts a rare talent. This calm, however, did not extend to a thunderous challenge in the 5-0 victory against Yemen from which he should have been dismissed.
Football’s next great left footer could come from the Land of the Rising Sun. Doan represents a starlet ready to burst into supernova. For Dutch employers Groningen – who’ve already batted aside Manchester City’s approach – and Japan, the 21-year-old provides a lethal threat when cutting inside. The similarities to Netherlands icon Arjen Robben are obvious, yet still apt. His deflected effort proved to be the eventual winner in the rollercoaster 3-2 triumph against Turkmenistan.
Asia’s finest footballers have been brought together in the UAE for Asian Cup 2019.
From the landmark 24 teams that are competing in the biggest-ever edition from January 5-February 1, several players stand out.
From Europe-based superstars to domestic gems, here are our choices for players to watch:
A changing of the guard has taken place for Japan, but a familiar face remains at centre-back. Yoshida offers a wealth of experience, as a veteran of two Olympics, two World Cups and two Asian Cups – helping lift the 2011 edition. Alongside fellow experienced head, Tomoaki Makino, he should provide a solid base for the likes of Ritsu Doan to flourish.
Forget just being Asia’s deadliest attacker, Son comes into this tournament – belatedly thanks to an agreement with Tottenham – as one of the world’s in-form players. Surprisingly, this is not always a side that the Korean public have seen. But his image was rehabilitated with success at the summer’s Asian Games and he’ll be expected to carry the dreams of an expectant nation.
Mabkhout was a revelation four years ago. The Al Jazira striker’s sixth – and final – goal of the tournament secured him the Golden Boot and the UAE an incredible third place. Fast forward to the present and he carries the hopes of the hosts, thanks to the injury suffered by superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman. Worryingly, while he remains prolific domestically, he’s struck just twice in his last nine internationals. There was one glaring miss, in particular, in the opening 1-1 draw with Bahrain.
Salem Al Dawsari
Al Dawsari was, for so long, the trusted back-up winger for Al Hilal and Saudi Arabia. Nawaf Al Abed’s injury induced misery, however, has granted him space to flourish. The 27-year-old lit up a poor World Cup, notching the late winner versus Egypt. Back at Hilal after his loan at Villarreal, he’s struck up a bond with Bafetimbi Gomis. His quest to reinforce his status as one of Asia’s best began with a goal in the 4-0 rout of North Korea.
Forget the bleatings of empty vessel Chris Sutton, Rogic is now with the holders and is eager to impress after their shock 1-0 loss to Jordan. With Aaron Mooy and Daniel Arzani out injured, everything will have to run through the Celtic playmaker. New boss Graham Arnold’s system should also bring out the best in the graceful creator. At 26-years old, this tournament should be Rogic’s to make his own.
Shanghai SIPG’s surge to the Chinese Super League title was less about Oscar and Hulk, and more about the prolific Wu. His 27 goals in 29 top-flight matches saw him become top scorer for the champions – not bad work. Strangely, he remains something of a mystery to China boss Marcello Lippi. Thrust across the attacking line, he is still to bring the best out of him. The Asian Cup would be a good place to start.