UAE enter knockout stage with 1-1 Thailand draw
UAE's Ali Mabkhout (left) fights for the ball against Thailand's Thitiphan Puangjan.
Al Ain - From the onset teams showed attacking intent
By Ashwani Kumar
Published: Mon 14 Jan 2019, 9:48 PM
Last updated: Mon 14 Jan 2019, 11:55 PM
The UAE qualified into the knockout stage of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 with a 1-1 draw against Thailand at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
UAE striker Ali Mabkhout's early header was cancelled by a late first-half equaliser from Thailand midfielder Thitipan Puangchan. The result also saw Thailand enter the next phase as best third-placed team.
Before the match, teams knew a drawn result was enough to guarantee qualification into the next phase. And in their bid to not concede a goal, both sides armed their defence setup with an additional man.
From the onset teams showed attacking intent and chances were created at both ends as they looked for an early goal in this high stake encounter.
And the UAE were the first to net. It was a routine pass into the box from the left flank by Al Hasan Saleh and Ismail Al Hammadi's first touch was exquisite as he drew the defence and keeper out, and looped his shot only to be denied by the bar. However, Mabkhout was on the spot to tap the rebound off the bar with his header. With Thai defenders out of position and three unmarked waiting 'Whites' inside the box it was a sure conversion. The strike saw UAE push with more confidence and Khaflan Mubarak had an attempt but missed.
At the other end, Thai No. 9 Adisak Kraisorn threatened after a one-two with striker Teerasil Dangda but keeper Khalid Eisa easily kept the shot away.
The UAE were a goal up but skipper Ismail Al Hammadi, sensibly, kept pressing forward. But the 'War Elephants' also forayed especially through Thitipan Puangchan and an equaliser was in the air. And just before half-time, the Thais scored.
It was a rather clumsy finish as Teerasil Dangda unwittingly taped the ball past defender Mohamed Ahmed, who was clueless where the ball went. Puangchan rushed in and Eisa made a slide but Thai midfielder Puangchan got enough touch on the ball for it to roll into the net.
Eisa was furious at his backline being in utter disarray. Mohamed Ahmed was seen pointing towards himself, taking the blame, for the goal. Mabkhout had a chance to regain the lead but he had more spin on his curling effort that sailed over the bar.
After the breather, teams carried in same vein. Duo of Mabkhout and Mubarak, and Dangda and Puangchan kept things interesting.
In 74 minutes, UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni made a bold move as he replaced Al Hammadi with Ahmed Khalil. And immediately Khalil had a shy on goal through a header from set-piece cross from Mubarak. He had another chance through a free-kick just outside the box but lacked bite. And with minutes left, Ismail Matar took field.
With Bahrain pulling a last-gasp goal against India in Sharjah, it was riveting few final minutes in Al Ain but the scores remained unchanged. At the end, Thailand celebrated like they had won the match. For the UAE, it was not the result they were looking for but the 'Whites' have extended their unbeaten run in the tournament.