AFC Asian Cup 2019: Khalil spares UAE’s blushes against Bahrain

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Ahmed Khalil was the hero for hosts United Arab Emirates in the opening game of AFC Asian Cup 2019 as he came off the bench to salvage a 1-1 draw against Bahrain on Saturday.

It initially looked as though an upset was on the cards at the Zayed Sports City Stadium when Mohamed Al-Romaihi fired the Bahraini ahead in the 78th minute, but Khalil came to the rescue by converting a penalty with just two minutes remaining to earn UAE a share of the spoils.

The Emirati could have gotten off to a dream start after just six minutes when Ismail Al-Hammadi raced through on goal after being released by Ali Mabkhout’s incisive pass down the left.

While the angle was acute, Al-Hammadi should have put the ball into the back of the net although opposition goalkeeper Sayed Shubbar Alawi deserved credit for having got an important touch onto the shot.

Ali Mabkhout was closely watched by a resolute Bahrain defence.

That could have been an ominous sign but, instead, Bahrain gradually grew into the contest was more than matched the hosts for endeavour.

A minute before halftime, they came extremely close to breaking the deadlock when Kamil Al-Aswad’s lovely freekick from the edge of the box sailed narrowly over.

Khalid Eisa then produced an excellent double save to deny the Bahraini in the 52nd minute, parrying a ferocious drive from Ali Madan before reacting in time to block Al-Romaihi’s follow-up effort.

It was then the hosts’ turn to threaten eight minutes after the hour mark when Bahrain failed to clear their lines at a corner and the ball was eventually deflected into the path of Mabkhout, who reacted instinctively to the loose ball but lashed his shot a whisker wide of the post.

Bandar Al-Ahbabi tries his best to get UAE on the front foot.

At this stage, it looked as though the Emirati might draw inspiration from the home crowd and start to build momentum heading into the closing stages of the contest, but their opponents had other ideas.

Having already nearly catching Eisa out at his near post with a speculative attempt moments earlier, Al-Romaihi finally provided Bahrain the breakthrough in the 78th minute.

Eisa perhaps could have done better as he came out of goal but failed to claim Sayed Redha Isa’s right-wing delivery and, although Al-Romaihi’s initial header was cleared off the line by Khalifa Mubarak, he was on hand to fire home on the rebound.

While it was Al-Romaihi coming good at one end of the pitch, Shubbar proved to be equally important in the other box as he produced a brilliant point-blank range save in the 85th minute, after Saif Rashid had raced onto Al-Hammadi’s through-ball and looked destined to score.

But, in what proved to be a contrasting case of two substitutes, UAE were awarded a penalty with just three minutes remaining when Bahrain’s Mohamed Marhoon – having just been brought on to help defend a corner – was penalised for handball inside the area.

It was Khalil – having come off the bench for his 100th cap – who stepped up to the spot and he made no mistake in sending an emphatic strike into the back of the net to snatch a point for the hosts.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Khalid Eisa, Bandar Al-Ahbabi, Khalifa Mubarak, Fares Juma, Al Hassan Saleh, Amer Abdulrahman (Mohamed Abdulrahman 54’), Ali Salmeen, Khamis Esmaeel (Ahmed Khalil 81’), Khalfan Mubarak (Saif Rashid 54’), Ismail Al-Hammadi, Ali Mabkhout.

BAHRAIN: Sayed Shubbar Alawi, Sayed Redha Isa, Hamad Al-Shamsan, Waleed Al-Hayam, Ahmed Juma (Mohamed Marhoon 87’), Ali Madan (Sami Al-Husaini 90+3’), Abdulwahab Al-Safi, Kamil Al-Aswad, Sayed Dhiya Saeed, Jamal Rashid (Abdulla Yusuf Helal 81’), Mohamed Al-Romaihi.