Substitute Ahmed Khalil, on his 100th cap, netted an 88th-minute penalty kick to save hosts UAE from a losing start to the 2019 Asian Cup against Bahrain.
After a first half of very few chances on Sunday at Zayed Sports City, stand-in striker Mohamed Al Romaihi lashed in at the second attempt on 78 minutes. A shameful Group A- opening appeared to be on, before replacement Mohamed Marhoon’s handball was harshly punished and Khalil did the rest to earn an unsettling 1-1 draw.
Here are the ratings:
Khalid Essa – 6: Surprisingly spilled a second-half shot, but reacted superbly to keep it out. Didn’t have a great deal else to do in Abu Dhabi.
Bandar Al Ahbabi – 6: The usual energy was not apparent at Zayed Sports City from the Al Ain rocket. Was the reason tactical or personal?
Khalifa Mubarak – 7: One of few Whites stars to escape from this with reputation enhanced. Really unlucky not to keep out Al Romaihi’s goal.
Fares Juma – 5: The skipper of the UAE was nowhere to be seen when Al Romaihi had two attempts to put Bahrain ahead after interval.
Al Hassan Saleh – 5: The Sharjah left-back is an average-to-good Arabian Gulf League left-back. Why didn’t Walid Abbas start the game?
Ismail Al Hammadi – 5: Missed a glorious opportunity in the sixth minute. Influence of the experienced winger waned from that moment.
Ali Salmeen – 5: The Al Wasl midfield battler simply wasn’t required. Some imagination and drive was needed in preference.
Amer Abdulrahman – 5: His passing needed to be at his sharpest. Instead, the Al Ain man did nothing before being hooked early on.
Khamis Esmail – 5: It appeared that the Wasl defensive midfielder was utilised on the left wing. The question is, why did that happen?
Khalfan Mubarak – 4: Biggest disappointment of a disappointing night. Looked lost in the formation and was deservedly hooked.
Ali Mabkhout – 5: The fans could not believe it when a golden opportunity was spurned in second half by the predator from Al Jazira.
Saif Rashed – 7: Stretched Bahrain with his pace and drive. Should have started.
Mohamed Abdulrahman – 7: Added a bit of thought and liveliness to a plodding midfield
Ahmed Khalil – N/A: Several seasons of under-performance dissipated with this clinical penalty when the UAE needed him. Excellent way to mark a 100th cap.
Sayed Shubbar Alawi – 6: The Bahrain goalkeeper would have expected an onslaught. Instead, he had few saves of note to make.
Sayed Redha Isa – 7: Kept it steady on his flank and then produced the all-important cross that team-mate Al Romaihi pounced upon.
Hamad Al-Shamsan – 7: Showed a physical presence against the usually formidable Mabkhout. Deserved to be on a winning team.
Waleed Al Hayam – 7: Another centre-back who shone for Bahrain in a remarkable display. At 27-years old, is a player coming into his own.
Ahmed Juma – 6: Would have been unsettled by Al Hammadi’s early dynamism, but responded well to this challenge. Solid stuff.
Komail Al Aswad – 6: Came exceedingly close at the end of the first half through a free-kick. An inventive presence in the middle.
Abdulwahab Al-Safi – 7: A redoubtable display from one of the veterans of this inexperienced side. This leadership was required in Abu Dhabi.
Sayed Dhiya Saeed – 6: Was tasked with keeping it tight in middle, but still took the chance several times in first half to put in good crosses.
Ali Madan – 7: His rasping second-half shot caused panic in UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa. Was a profitable outlet for the Bahrainis.
Mohamed Al Romaihi – 8: Stood in superbly for injured star striker Abdulla Yusuf Helal. Required two bites at getting the opener for Bahrain.
Jamal Rashid – 6: Another attacker who hit the flank when in possession and tucked inside when Bahrain did not have the ball. Decent.
Abdulla Yusuf Helal – N/A: New Slavia Prague buy was restricted by injury to a late cameo role.
Mohamed Marhoon – N/A: Had barely been on the pitch by the time he was punished, harshly, for handball.
Sami Al Husaini – N/A: Thrown on at the death to try and eat up time.
Underdogs Iraq’s sensational 2007 Asian Cup triumph has motivated this edition’s dark horses Syria to try and create a repeat, according to coach Bernd Stange.
A frontline of Omar Al Somah and 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin, plus a run to World Cup 2018’s qualifying play-offs, has made the Syrians outside favourites for 2019. This is despite the ongoing civil war.
In the 2007 competition, Iraq were a crisis-struck country who rose to defy the odds. Thoughts of a repeat were on Stange’s mind ahead of their opener versus Palestine.
The German said: “No one in our team is arrogant to say that we are here to win the tournament. There are many other teams including sides like Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Iran and Australia.
“Our first objective, however, is to take the full points against Palestine. And as far as winning the tournament goes, we can safely say that Iraq has shown us all that such a feat is possible.
“There is a lot of positive pressure on us from the millions of troubled Syrians who want to have something to smile about.”
Their opponents in Group B at Sharjah Stadium are making just their second Asian Cup appearance.
India’s change of mentality has put them in the perfect place to get off to a winning start in the 2019 Asian Cup against rising power Thailand, according to head coach Stephen Constantine.
The Blue Tigers are one of the lesser footballing nations in a Group A expected to be dominated by hosts the UAE and Sunday’s opening opponents. This outlook has not been helped by a four-match winless streak running into the competition.
But Constantine remained undaunted ahead of the clash at Abu Dhabi’s Al Nahyan Stadium, that represents his nation’s return to the competition for the first time since 2011.
He said: “When I arrived [Constantine has been in charge from 2002-05 and, again, from January 2015], it was like ‘we will go and play the game and let’s not lose by too many goals’, but that has changed. Now, we don’t go into a game thinking that we will lose.
“That’s the biggest change I think from the mentality point of view. The work rate has increased and the boys are putting phenomenal effort into games and training.
“There is no easy game for us. But we will take one game at a time. I think we have prepared well for Thailand and tomorrow we will find out.”
Thailand progressed to the final round of World Cup 2018 qualifying and boast emerging stars, such as diminutive playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin.
But their progress was tempered when an experimental squad exited last month’s AFF Suzuki Cup in the semi-finals. There are also teething problems with the defensive demands of boss Milovan Rajevac.
“India has dramatically improved in the last couple years, as the FIFA ranking says, but we will do our best,” said the 65-year-old Serbian. “Our preparation is good. We hope for a good result tomorrow.”