Khalil brace seals historic – but controversial – UAE victory

The United Arab Emirates claimed their first-ever World Cup qualifying victory against Japan at the Saitama Stadium on Thursday, with Ahmed Khalil netting a brace in a 2-1 win.

The result was not without its controversy though, with Takuma Asano appearing to have a legitimate goal ruled out late on.

The match kicked off at a blistering pace, with the home side looking more comfortable on the ball and threatening in the early minutes of the game.

Japan got off to the perfect start in the 11th minute, Keisuke Honda shrugging clear of his marker before heading home from a well-delivered free-kick.

UAE struggled to find their rhythm and should have been two goals down, but were let off the hook as Shinji Okazaki’s 17th-minute effort narrowly missed the target.

The away side equalised minutes later, against the run of play, when a brilliantly struck 25-yard Ahmed Khalil free-kick left the Japanese shot-stopper with no chance, despite him getting fingertips to the ball.

Khalil’s goal sparked some life into the game and the hosts were unlucky not to double their lead, when Kagawa’s two efforts produced two sublime saves from Khaled Eisa.

The second stanza saw UAE emerge with more of an attacking intent. Their pressure eventually paid off, when Khalil grabbed his second goal of the night from the penalty spot.

In a bid to score the equaliser, Japan threw numbers forward in attack, and went agonisingly close through Shinji Okaza, who saw his looping header cannon off the woodwork.

Substitute Asano thought he had secured a late equaliser only for the referee to rule that the ball had not crossed the line. Television replays appeared to show the goal should have been awarded.

Despite the late attacking surge by the Japanese, UAE held their nerve to record their first-ever World Cup qualifying win.