Ali Mabkhout heroics give UAE 2-1 win over Malaysia
Ali Mabkhout celebrates his goal with teammates (Reuters)
Dubai - In a fractious Group G encounter at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, frontman Ali Ahmed Mabkhout silenced the partisan crowd with a brace
A virtually new-look UAE took their first baby step towards World Cup qualification but not before weathering a Malaysian storm in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday night.
In a fractious Group G encounter at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, frontman Ali Ahmed Mabkhout silenced the partisan crowd with a brace as the Whites rallied to win their opener 2-1.
Spicing it up and adding a bit more needle to the contest was Malaysia's humiliation at the hands of the UAE in a World Cup qualifier four years ago.
The Whites, then under coach Mahdi Ali had walloped the Malaysians 10-0 at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, a result which saw then Malay coach Dollah Salleh step down.
The Malaysians have improved by leaps and bounds since then and that showed as they went about seeking revenge. The Malayan Tigers, now under Tan Cheng Hoe, went on a ruthless rampage in the opening half hour.
They were up and away even before one could blink, 36 seconds to be precise, with Muhammad Syafiq Ahmad sending a crisp but powerful header past shot stopper Khalid Eisa after Matthew Davies had floated one in from the right.
The hosts came up with a barrage of attacks, not allowing the UAE to find their feet in the contest.
Davies, who was impressive down the right, came up with a shot himself but Eisa did admirably well to push it away to safety on seven minutes.
The UAE's first look came on a counter, a minute later, but Mabkhout blazed it wide after being put in by Khalil Ibrahim. But danger still lurked at the back as a new-look and reconfigured UAE defence continued to make a slew of errors.
The UAE's first clear chance came on 29 minutes when Khalil Ibrahim fired one from the right. Mabkhout controlled it and took aim but it deflected off the goalkeeper Farizal Marlias, kissed the post and went out.
There were frayed tempers during a UAE corner with Brendan Gan and Mabkhout involved in a skirmish. Gan was shown a yellow but it didn't stop there as Mabkhout went at him this time after the corner was retaken, with the Al Jazira forward also going into the Japanese referee's book.
But a moment of brilliance saw the Whites draw level, Mohamed Al Menhali bursting down the right and teeing it up from the byline. And Mabkhout made use of his height to rise above and head home. He then wheeled away towards the corner flag to celebrate, holding his finger on his mouth to silence the home fans.
Debutant Ali Saleh came up with an effort from inside the box after the break but Marlias tipped it away. The UAE then duly got the winner, Mabkhout darting in and going one on one with Marlias before tucking it into the net.
Safawi Rasid saw his left-footer from the edge of the box, hit the woodwork, at the other end.
Malaysia pressed in the five minutes of stoppage time but the UAE soaked the pressure to walk away with full points, to kick off new coach Bert van Marwijk's reign.