Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout were the scorers for the UAE in a 2-0 win over India that was anything but routine.
The Blue Tigers were the better side for a lot of this game, but the clinical Whites were victorious thanks to a virtuoso display from lethal Al Jazira striker Mabkhout.
He and Mubarak combined for the flourishing talent to put the Whites ahead before the break with a deft finish.
India were industrious and dangerous throughout, but faded a little after the break and the UAE sealed victory late on with Mabkhout grabbing a killer second goal.
Here, Matt Jones takes a closer look at his performance.
The UAE have been a difficult watch under Alberto Zaccheroni, and this game for large parts was no different as they struggled to cope with India’s guile and pace.
But one very bright shining light for the Whites is the world-class Mabkhout, who was instrumental in both goals. He ran into the channel to collect possession and then patiently waited for Mubarak to arrive and set him free to give the UAE the lead.
Then, after India faded, he killed the game off in emphatic style.
Got right – All round play
Mabkhout has long struck fear into Arabian Gulf League defences – he plundered a scarcely believable 33 goals (eight more than Al Wasl’s Fabio De Lima) three seasons ago as the Pride of Abu Dhabi lifted the title.
But amidst the good work done at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium by Henk ten Cate and Marcel Keizer in that time, as well as a visible maturity displayed by the 28-year-old in terms of finishing chances, the lethal marksman has also become a dangerous creator of goals.
As well as his league-leading 15 strikes this season, he also has four assists in the AGL – joint fifth most. Two of those have been for Mubarak who he combined with to devastating effect here for the opening goal.
This is yet another problem for defenders. Because even if they can stop Mabkhout scoring, they now have to stop him assisting goals.
Got wrong – Isolated
This was as much a fault of the team rather than anything the hard-working Mabkhout did. Too often he cast a lonely figure up front. He would sprint into the channels to receive a long punt up field, but after collecting and protecting the ball, colleagues in a white shirt were too slow to catch up to him.
Could Mabkhout be to blame slightly? Although he teed up Mubarak for the opener, he was a little wasteful with the ball, posting just a 73.7 per cent pass success rate. He also lost the ball eight times, making only two recoveries.
Coach Zaccheroni’s unadventurous tactics certainly didn’t help though, too scared to thrown men up in support of his star man, for fear of being caught on the break by dangerous India.
He was the leading scorer at this competition four years ago as the UAE finished an impressive third. They are not so thrilling to watch four years down the road, but Mabkhout is every bit as deadly, more so in fact.
If he can keep scoring, something he is so naturally gifted at, the hosts have a fighting chance of hoisting a first continental title come February 1.
Know more about Sport360 Application