UAE continued their winning streak to make it perfect three with an exciting 2-0 victory over ten-man Oman in the final round of the group stage of the 21st Gulf Cup at the Khalifa Stadium in Manama on Friday.
Al Ahli’s brilliant forward Ahmed Khalil drew first blood for the boys in white in the 84th minute of the tough clash. Three minutes later, the AFC Best Upcoming player outpaced the Omani defenders to tackle the goalkeeper who tried to intercept him outside the box and sent home a lovely long range left footer to double the scoreline for his side and virtually end the Omani dream.
UAE head coach Ali Mahdi kept at least seven of his key players on the reserve bench in anticipation of what could be a tough encounter against the winners of Saturday Group B clash between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
UAE’s Ismail Salem (left) challenges Oman’s Hassan Yussef during their 21st Gulf Cup match in Manama. — AFP
Ali started the game with goalkeeper Khaled Essa instead of his most illustrious teammate Ali Khusaif, besides Abdul Aziz Haikal, Muhanad Al Enazi, Habib Al Fardan, Mohammed Fawzi, Saeed Al Kathiri, Ismail Matar and Al Hammadi and kept his top scorer Ali Mabkhout along with Hamdan Al Kamali, Omer Abdul Rahman among others in the reserve bench.
And after a goalless first half, the Omanis put their UAE opponents under strong pressure making the best of the heavy wind. Ali pulled out Ismail Matar and Ismail Al Hammadi to be substituted with Haboush Saleh and Ahmed Khalil before he sent in the brilliant playmaker to replace Saeed Al Kathiri.
The Omanis were virtually the better side on the pitch in terms of possession and the number of scoring opportunities. But, the same problem persisted and the Omani strikers missed the target on at least two occasions in front of the open net.
However, the last ten minutes were full of excitement. UAE began to set their pace with the helpful assistance of Al Ain’s midfielder Omer Abdul Rahman who made the difference as soon as he came in.
Towards the 84th minute, Khalil fired home the first goal after a lovely exchange with Amer Abdul Rahman before he controlled a long pass from Mohammed Ahmed and outpaced the Omani defenders to beat the keeper in great style.
The Omanis were reduced to ten players when former Al Jazira defender Mudhafar fouled UAE’s striker Haboush Saleh while he had only the goalkeeper to beat.
In another clash, Fayez Aish powered hosts Bahrain to a tough foughtout 1-0 victory over fighting Qatar to make it into the semi-finals along with UAE after having raised their tally to four points from three starts. Bahrain will face Iraq in semi-finals of the competition on Tuesday as UAE will meet either Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.