Bert van Marwijk praised his side’s character as the UAE got their 2022 World Cup-bid off to a positive start with a spirited 2-1 in Malaysia.
The visitors were behind after just 33 seconds in Kuala Lumpur but an Ali Mabkhout brace – his 50th and 51st goals in international colours – got the Whites off to a winning start.
“We started very bad, everybody could see that – after 40 seconds, 1-0 – and we were sleeping on the left side and also in the centre,” the Dutchman was quoted as saying by The National.
“We couldn’t take a hold of the game the first half hour. We found it very difficult to keep the ball.
“I tried to correct it during the game, but with this public at this stadium it was not easy. Every time they had one man extra on our left side, so we corrected that at the end of the first half. And in the second half we didn’t have that problem any more.
“But we worked very hard and in end we’re very happy to win here. Because I think there will not be many countries in this group winning here.”
The UAE, playing their first competitive match since the former Saudi Arabia tactician was appointed in March, went a goal down inside the first minute at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, Syafiq Ahmad powering a header in, but replied through two goals from Mabkhout.
Ahmad’s early gut punch ensured the Malayan Tigers a roaring start, Al Wahda right-back Mohammed Al Menhali guilty of ball-watching as the Johor Darul Ta’zim attacker powered in.
The visitors gradually grew into the game though and despite Mabkhout’s hesitant effort brushing the post following Wahda wideman Khalil Ibrahim’s delicious centre and the 28-year-old left frustrated by a yellow card for a foul on Brendan Gan after the same player had escaped punishment for a headbutt, he was rewarded.
Mabkhout levelled two minutes before the interval when his forceful header could not be kept out after diligent play and a fine cross was delivered by Al Menhali. They were the better side after that and Mabkhout proved the difference when he put the Whites 2-1 ahead late on with a typically composed finish.
The win gives the Whites a strong start to Group G, which also contains Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
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