The UAE confirmed top spot in Group A at the Asian Cup as the unbeaten Whites drew 1-1 with Thailand in Al Ain.
Ali Mabkhout gave the home side the perfect start at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. A surging run from left wing-back by Alhasan Saleh found Ismail Al Hammadi, the captain chipped onto the bar but the predatory Mabkhout was on hand to nod in a 46th international goal on his 66th appearance.
Thailand equalised just before half-time against the run of play. Chanathip Songkrasin’s lofted ball was not dealt with and although Khalid Essa blocked Thitiphan Puangjan’s backheeled first effort, the midfielder poked home the rebound to send the War Elephants’ fans into a frenzy.
The second half was a very open affair with both sides’ attacks looking threatening, although neither side could quite muster the quality required to forge a winner.
Here we rate the home players at the Hazza.
Khalid Essa – 8: Alert throughout, came off his line to snuff out an early counter-attack. One-handed stop from Kraisorn was pivotal. Has had his critics but is proving in this tournament why he is UAE No1.
Bandar Al Ahbabi – 7: The converted winger was able to roam forward incessantly in Zaccheroni’s admittedly cautious 5-4-1 approach. Took a knock though and didn’t emerge for the second half. He was missed.
Mohamed Ahmed – 7: The right-back turned centre-half has become a rock for club and country. One crunching early tackle on Songkrasin was music to the Hazza’s ears.
Khalifa Mubarak – 7: The bald-headed Al Nasr defender was a beast at the back for the UAE. A couple of charging challenges kept Thailand’s tricky attackers at bay.
Ismail Ahmed – 5: Looked as if he’d forgotten what sport he played as he donned a Petr Cech style rugby scrum cap. Used all his experience to steer the UAE to victory over India, but often caught on the back foot here.
Alhasan Saleh – 5: His run and cross were key to the opening goal as he fed Al Hammadi. Often ignored defensive responsibility though as Thailand’s attacks poured down his side.
Khalfan Mubarak – 7: The smallest UAE player on the pitch, but the War Elephants were unable to trample his impact on the game. Always an outlet going forward with his rapid interchange and mesmeric feet.
Majed Hassan – 6: Had been calls for him to start the India game, and the all-action Shabab Al Ahli man made himself busy in attack and defence. One crucial block halted an attack as Thailand grew in confidence.
Ali Salmin – 5: Started brightly as he and Hassan dominated the middle of the field. Faded though as Thailand’s rapid counters increasingly stretched the UAE midfield.
Ismail Al Hammadi – 6: The evergreen skipper looked back to his best after a miserable few years out with injury. Set up Mabkhout’s opener and carried the ball well. Reduced impact after the break though and gave way to Khalil.
Ali Mabkhout – 8: Set the tone with the opening goal, he is nearing a famous milestone following a 46th UAE goal in 66 outings. Threatened often and looks at his blistering best.
Mohamed Abdulrahman – 5: Replaced Al Ahbabi as Zaccheroni changed tack at the break. On his home pitch but looked overawed as the Whites’ midfield was overworked.
Ahmed Khalil – 6: Brought on to add ballast to the UAE attack. Rocketed one fierce free-kick over but otherwise saw little of the goal.
Ismail Matar N/A The masked Al Wahda man was thrown on as the UAE chased a winner, but he could not make himself a hero.
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