The Whites recorded a second 1-1 draw of the tournament against spirited Thailand in Al Ain on Monday, with the result seeing the tournament hosts top Group A and emerge from the first phase unbeaten.
But it was another less than convincing performance from Alberto Zaccheroni’s side – who needed a late penalty from Ahmed Khalil to rescue a point in their opening game against Bahrain, before India were unconvincingly negotiated 2-0 on Thursday.
Ali Mabkhout gave the hosts an early lead at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday, but Zaccheroni, the iconic Italian former AC Milan and Japan coach, deployed a defensive 5-4-1 formation and his side sat back after the opener, inviting pressure.
The War Elephants duly equalised before the break through Thitipan Puangchan, with neither side producing the requisite quality in the second half to win the game.
Nevertheless, the draw was good enough to seal top spot, and Al Ain goalkeeper Essa questioned why dissenting voices were so vociferous.
“I don’t think we should dwell too much on the performance as we have still managed to finish at the top of the group,” said the Whites’ No1, who was called upon to make an impressive stop from Adisak Kraisorn before the break with the UAE 1-0 ahead.
The Boss stopper did, however, acknowledge that the host nation will have to improve in the knockout stages.
“Yes, we have to adapt better especially the players who have just come into the side,” added Essa, 29.
“The team next will be more difficult and we will have to be very cautious and have to concentrate better. We are aware that one mistake will put us out of the tournament.
“We will have to look to minimise the mistakes. We have to sit in the coming days and analyse our performance.”
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