'Fantastic' UAE reach Gulf Cup final with penalty shootout win over Iraq
'Fantastic' UAE reach Gulf Cup final with penalty shootout win over Iraq
Eisa saved the opening spot kick from Iraq’a Alaa Abdulzahra to give his side the advantage before Humam Tariq blasted the third penalty into the sky and Mohamed Al-Menhali converted the winner for the Whites to set up a repeat of their opening match against Oman in the final on Friday.
“There was a lot of pressure on us, but we remained calm. The entire defense played four fantastic games and I’m indebted to each and every one of them,” said the UAE goalkeeper.
With the score locked at 0-0 and ten minutes on the clock, Eisa’s Al-Ain teammate Mohanad Salem showed impressive defensive awareness to clear Abdulzahra’s header off the line after the Iraqi forward’s header had beaten the Whites’ goalkeeper.
“When Mohanad saved that ball, I told him that I would ensure we win this match,” said Eisa. “So, I would like to dedicate this victory to him.”
Neither side gave away any major chances in a physical first half, but it was the UAE who came close first, when Ali Mabkhout squared for Ahmed Khalil who laid the ball off for Omar Abdulrahman to curl in first time from the edge of the area, but his shot was too central, allowing goalkeeper Jalal Hassan to save.
The final minutes of the half saw end-to-end action, with Al Menhali snatching the ball from Tariq and advancing into the box before beating the Iraqi goalkeeper at his near post from a narrow angle. Al Menhali’s strike ricocheted off the upright to the dismay of the traveling Emirati support.
The Lions of Mesopotamia instantly hit on the counter as Ayman Hussein was brought down by UAE defender Ismail Ahmed while clear on goal.
Defender Fayez Ali tested the Emirati goalkeeper with a powerfully struck angled free-kick, but Khaled Eisa was well-positioned to punch it away and keep the game scoreless going into the break.
Abdulrahman was again the creative force behind the Whites attack in the second half, sending Mabkhout through on goal at the hour mark. The UAE’s No. 7 dwelled on the ball and eventually sent a weak shot into the arms of Hassan.
The UAE nearly stole a late winner when substitute Ismael Al-Hammadi embarked on a jinking run inside the Iraqi half and supplied a pass for Mabkhout who fired low with his left, only for his strike to crawl wide of the goal in the dying minutes.
Abdulrahman thought he had found the back of the net in extra time, when he launched a curled free-kick from 30-yards out that landed on the wrong side of the net. And so to penalties. The Emiratis were the more focused of the two sides, converting all their four kicks to eliminate Iraq and advance to set-up a re-run of the 2007 Gulf Cup final against Oman.
UAE: Khaled Eisa, Khalifa Mubarak, Ismail Ahmed, Mohanad Salem, Mohamed Al Menhali, Mohamed Ahmed, Ali Salmin, Khamis Esmail, Omar Abdulrahman, Ahmed Khalil, Ali Mabkhout
Iraq: Jalal Hassan, Alaa Mhawi, Ali Fayez, Ahmed Ibrahim, Ali Bahjat, Amjad Attwan, Mahdi Kamil, Humam Tariq, Hussain Ali, Ali Husni, Ayman Hussain.
Referee: Aziz Asimov (Uzbekistan)
Man Of the Match:
Omar Abdulrahman won the organizers’ Man of the Match award. The playmaker was one of the brighter spots for the Whites on Tuesday, but his teammate Mohamed Al-Menhali was undoubtedly a key influence on the game. Deployed as a right wingback in Alberto Zaccheroni’s three-at-the-back formation, Al-Menhali romped up and down the flank with energy and drive. He was disciplined in defense and nearly settled the match for the Whites, only to see his effort denied by the post. He did eventually score the UAE’s winner from the fourth penalty kick.
Highlight of the Match:
The UAE may have dominated possession and had the lion’s share of scoring chances, but Iraq did threaten on the counter and at times got around the Emirati defense. Goalkeeper Khaled Eisa, however, was solid when called upon, producing a hatful of saves to keep a clean sheet for 120 minutes. The Al-Ain man faces a battle for the UAE No. 1 spot against Al-Jazira’s Ali Khaseif, but he has done his chances a world of good with this performance.
Lowlight of the Match:
Iraq coach Bassem Qasim utilized all of his attacking weapons as he attempted to become the first side to break the UAE’s resilience in the tournament, but neither Ali Husni nor his replacement Mohanad Abdulraheem were able to pose a real threat on the Emirati goal. Even Iraq’s star of the tournament Hussein Ali, who worked hard all night, could not find a gap. Qasim may need to explore other options if he is to build a side that can score against Asia’s finest in a year’s time when the Lions of Mesopotamia travel to the UAE for the 2019 Asian Cup.
What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?
- Al-Hilal won their 15th top-flight title this season.
- Big summer for Saudi Arabia football with the Green Falcons at the World Cup.
Now the Saudi Professional League season is over for another year Arab News can look back at their title tilts and what the big four clubs have to do over the coming months ahead of the next season.
Coaching situation: Ramon Diaz was in charge for much of the season, but was fired in February after setbacks in the Champions League.
Assistant Juan Brown did Okay in the final stretch, but a top-class coach could get more out of this team.
Squad priorities: A reliable goalscorer to support Omar Khribin and with veteran defender Osama Hawsawi leaving for pastures new, a replacement center-back with leadership qualities. Welcoming back the major stars — Carlos Eduardo, Khribin, Nawaf Al-Abed and Salem Al -Dawsari — will be a major boost.
Aim next season: Win the AFC Champions League
Coaching situation: Sergiy Rebrov is out of contract at the end of June. His future is likely to depend on how the team fares against Al-Sadd in the second round of the AFC Champions League in May.
Squad priorities: There is not much wrong. The Jeddah giants were the highest scorers in the league last season and had the second best defense. Keeping star midfielder Leonardo fit will help as will a little cover in the center of defense. Star striker Omar Al-Somah fell out with the coach in a public way in the penultimate game of the season. It may be that one of them has to go. The Syrian has been player of the year for three years and has a longer contract than Rebrov.
Aim next season: Win the league. Maintain good performances in Asia.
Coaching situation: Krunoslav Jurcic arrived in January and the former Croatian national team boss produced an upswing in results. May just be a temporary appointment and it needs to be sorted quickly.
Squad priorities: Looks good with the Saudi Arabia national team keeper, a strong center-back pairing of Omar Hawsawi and Bruno Uvini and the full-back position seemingly sorted with the January signing of Saad Suhail. They probably need a defensive midfielder and have to keep Junior Kabananga. The DR Congo striker has shown enough in his few weeks at the club to suggest that he could be a real star next season, especially with Leonardo pulling the strings behind him.
Aim next season: A genuine title challenge and getting through the play-offs into the 2019 AFC Champions League.
Coaching situation: A bottom half finish is unacceptable for a team with Al-Itithad’s stature and history. Chilean coach Jose Luis Sierra may find that winning domestic cups is no substitute for challenging for the title.
Squad priorities: There is too much reliance on players such as Carlos Villanueva, a creative spark in the team, and Fahad Al-Ansari, the midfield engine, who are the wrong side of 30. The possible return of star winger Fahad Al-Muwallad will help, but an introduction of energy is needed.
Aim next season: Top three and, if the team wins the King’s Cup, a good showing in the 2019 AFC Champions League.