UAE keep 2026 World Cup hopes alive with win over Bahrain

It was their second successive victory in Group H following their 4-0 demolition of Nepal in Sharjah

By Team KT

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UAE players celebrate a goal during the match against Bahrain. — X
UAE players celebrate a goal during the match against Bahrain. — X

Published: Wed 22 Nov 2023, 12:38 AM

Sport compels you to unlock your motivation and chase your dreams.

For the UAE football team, the enduring dream has been to emulate the stars of 1990 and qualify for the 2026 Fifa World Cup which will be played in three North American countries - the United States, Canada and Mexico.

On Tuesday, Ali Mabkhout’s Al Abyad (The Whites) took a small, but significant step towards making that a reality when they overwhelmed hosts Bahrain 2-0 in their preliminary joint qualification Round 2 World Cup qualifying match at the Bahrain National Stadium.

It was their second successive victory in Group H following their 4-0 demolition of Nepal in Sharjah earlier this month.

The UAE’s attacking midfielder Abdalla Ramadan gave his team the lead when he beat Bahrain goalkeeper Ibrahim Lutfalla with a 36th-minute strike before Mabkhoot calmly fired home the second goal with a deft placement following an 89th penalty.

The pair of wins puts the UAE in pole position at the top of the four-team group which also includes Yemen and Nepal.

The winner and runners-up of each of the nine groups in the qualification rounds will advance to the third round, while also simultaneously qualifying for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

A total of 36 teams from Asia and the Middle East are competing on a home-and-away round-robin with the hope of eventually making it to football’s quadrennial showpiece.

The 2026 Fifa World Cup AFC qualifiers are a long process that began on November 17 and will be completed on June 11, 2024.

UAE coach Paulo Bento, who took his native Portugal and South Korea to the World Cup, adopted with 4-2-3-1 formation which provides a balance of stability in defense and offensive opportunities made famous by France’s most successful club, PSG.

After a slow start, it was the hosts who got the first look at the rival goal when Jasim Marhoom forced UAE keeper Khalid Al Mesmari to make a desperate clearance for a corner kick. Marhoon would have his second chance to score from the resultant flag kick only to shoot over the bar.

After finding their rhythm midway through the first half UAE’s Caio Candeo found his attempt carom off the post into Lutfalla’s waiting hands.

If the post denied them on that occasion The Whites made no mistake in the 36th minute when Abdalla Bekheet banged in Ali Saleh’s sweet pass that grazed a diving Lutfalla’s fingers before crashing into the net.

Bahrain had the chance to put his team level just before half-time but skied his shot over the goalpost.

After the break, the home team threw everything into the match and created several opportunities but Marhoon was equal to the task to defend a stinging volley by Al Mesmari.

The UAE held on resolutely and put the result beyond doubt when against the run of play they forced a spot kick after Mohamaed Hardan fouled Bekheet.

The UAE’s prolific goal-scoring machine Ali Mabkhout completed formalities by sending Lutfalla the wrong way.

The UAE has a long break as the qualifiers adjourn for Winter before resuming in March 2024 when they will host Yemen, while Bahrain travel to the popular tourist city of Kathmandu to play Nepal.


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