The UAE endured a nervy progression into the AFC U-23 Championship quarter-finals after striker Ahmed Al Attas’ late penalty secured a helter-skelter 3-2 triumph against nine-man Vietnam.
The Whites were put through the wringer in Doha’s Grand Hamad Stadium on Wednesday night, but came out as Group D winners. They twice went behind, lost a trio of players to injury within the first 30 minutes and there was an air of fortune about all three of their goals.
Regional rivals Iraq await in the last eight, with the sides set to meet at the same venue on Saturday (20:30). Victory then will put Dr Abdullah Misfer’s charges within touching distance of the top-three finish required to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Toshiya Miura’s men outplayed the UAE for much of the running despite sitting bottom of the pool with no points, smart interplay nullifying their opponents’ more direct approach.
Their cause was also helped by a chaotic start for the eventual victors. Al Ain defensive midfielder Ahmed Barman and replacement skipper Salem Ali of Al Jazira both pulled up with muscular problems, while Sharjah midfielder Saif Rashid twisted his ankle in a tackle.
During this disruptive beginning, Vietnam took the lead on 24 minutes as forward Nguyen Cong Phuong confidently dispatched a penalty earned from a Mohamed Surour handball.
They continued to peg back the shaken UAE, peppering shots at Al Ain goalkeeper Mohammed Busanda.
A hectic match switched into overdrive just past the hour mark, centre-back Pham Hoang Lam heading into his own goal under no pressure from Al Attas. But Vietnam refused to be cowed, attacking midfielder Nguyan Tuan Anh’s delightful side-footed finish from 20 yards putting them back in front.
Their lead only lasted five minutes, Al Wahda forward Mohamed Al Akbari’s cross-shot from distance fortuitously pinging in off the post to make it 2-2.
The UAE’s cause then received a significant boost as midfielder Luong Xuan Truong was harshly dismissed for a point-blank handball inside the area. Al Attas looked undaunted as he stood over the ball and he calmy sent goalkeeper Pham Van Tien the wrong way to put his nation in front for the first time.
Vietnam still pushed forward with abandon, the Whites only being able to truly relax when midfielder Nguyen Nam Anh was sent off for a second yellow card after smashing into Emirates Club playmaker Walid Ambar.
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