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.