The UAE’s King’s Cup campaign ended on a dour note as Alberto Zaccheroni’s side fell to a second successive defeat in Thailand, going down meekly to a 1-0 defeat against Gabon.
The loss was a near mirror image of their opening game in Bangkok against Slovakia, the Whites were wretched in the first half before coming to life in the second, with Ahmed Khalil netting what proved a consolation as they went down 2-1.
It was the same on Sunday at the Rajamangala National Stadium, with the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang-less Gabonese sprinting out of the blocks and racing into a 1-0 lead thanks to a fierce Levy Madinda strike that gave UAE stopper Ali Khaseif no chance.
In truth it was a shock that former Real Madrid and Spain defender Jose Camacho’s side were only 1-0 ahead at the break, with the Panthers threatening to pounce for a killer second throughout the opening 45 minutes.
Southampton midfielder Mario Lemina was lively throughout and set up the opening goal 14 minutes in as Gabon sprung a counter-attack. The former Juventus man surged down the left and even though his cross was initially miscontrolled by Andre Biyogo Poko, his scooped second touch teed up Asteras Tripoli midfielder Madinda who drilled his shot home with Khaseif getting a hand to it but the Al Jazira keeper was powerless to keep it out.
A vital tackle from veteran Al Ain centre-back Ismail Ahmed then dispossessed Axel Meye from doubling the lead.
Khalil, who had netted against Slovakia in the semi-final, had the UAE’s best chance when he played a neat one-two with Al Ain clubmate Rayan Yaslam.
The hulking striker had a great sight of goal but sidefooted tamely at Gabon keeper Didier Ovono as the Panthers cleared. The lively Meye then missed a guilt-edged chance to give his side a two-goal cushion as he raced onto a fine throughball.
The Paris FC striker just had Khaseif to beat but dragged his shot wide of the far post.
Zaccheroni’s charges were much improved after the break but failed to muster any serious chances. Khalil’s dipping free-kick proved problematic for Ovono who scooped the ball clear after it bounced awkwardly in front of him.
A superb ball into the box from Mahmoud Khamis fell to Jazira youngster Ahmed Al Attas who sidefooted meekly at Ovono, who did well to repel the effort although Al Attas really should have scored, with a late offside flag sparing his blushes.
In the final, meanwhile, hosts Thailand’s bid to win the King’s Cup for a 16th time was thwarted by Slovakia who won an entertaining game 3-2.
Thailand, who had shocked Gabon in the semi-final with a 4-2 penalty shootout victory, had a partisan crowd roaring them on but fell behind 10 minutes in when Robert Mak’s pace teed up Ondrej Duda who smashed home.
Mak then went from provider to scorer in the 34th minute as he ghosted in behind the defence and got ahead of Pansa Hemviboon to slot the ball past goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan to make it 2-0.
Slovakia stopper Michal Sulia then gifted the War Elephants a way back into the game when his poor clearance hit Teerasil Dangda who rolled the ball to Jakkaphan Kaewprom to poke it into an empty net.
Mak saw a second goal ruled out for offside but his side did regain their two-goal lead through Erik Pacinda who curled home a fine strike 22 minutes from time after being fed by Duda.
Still the War Elephants marched on in search of a third straight King’s Cup triumph, and they reduced the deficit with 11 minutes left when a well-worked free kick saw Pansa slot home to set up a grandstand finish.
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