AFC Asian Cup 2019: Why UAE overachieved by making it to the semifinals


Hosts United Arab Emirates’ campaign in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 came to a screeching halt as arch-rivals Qatar destroyed them in the semifinals by putting four goals past them without reply. But, did UAE really deserve to make the semis?

The Emiratis were pitted in a group with India, Thailand and Bahrain. Before the commencement of the tournament, they were widely believed to qualify for the knockouts without breaking a sweat. However, it wasn’t all rosy for them.

In the tournament opener, Bahrain went one goal to the good in the 78th minute of the match and UAE looked set to drop all three points. However, a controversial penalty was awarded to them two minutes from full-time and they salvaged a point.

They then struggled against India in their next group stage encounter as the Blue Tigers spurned one opportunity after another in the first half. However, a goal in the 41st minute dampened Indian spirits and UAE eventually won the match 2-0.

With so many missed chances vs UAE were India unlucky or do they have themselves to blame?

Against Thailand in their last group stage encounter, they went ahead in the seventh minute through Ali Mabkhout but that was all. They were toothless going forward and their defence looked shaky. As a result, the War Elephants equalised but still, UAE managed to qualify for the knockouts as the best team from the group.

In the round of 16 encounter against the Kyrgyz Republic, they were again lucky to be awarded a controversial penalty in the extra time after the match had finished level at 2-2 in 90 minutes. The result – they were through to the quarterfinals.

Highlights – United Arab Emirates vs Australia

Their last eight encounter was against the defending champions Australia, who had 15 more shots on goal, played twice the passes UAE did, were 15% more accurate with their passes, played in over four times the crosses the hosts did, had more interceptions, more corners but still, the Socceroos ended up on the losing side courtesy of Mabkhout’s goal in the 68th minute.

In a parallel universe, UAE’s campaign would have ended in the quarterfinal at the very max, but coupled with Australia’s inability to convert their chances and the hosts’ luck, they made it to the semifinals. But what happened in the last-four is known to everyone.

They were thoroughly battered by a Qatar side that hadn’t conceded a single goal throughout their Asian Cup campaign and in return, had scored 12 goals. UAE, on the other hand, had scored eight goals and had conceded six! The Maroons scored four more in the semis and sent the hosts packing.

Highlights – Qatar vs United Arab Emirates

Given the performances they put in throughout the tournament, UAE clearly, did not deserve to be one of the last four sides as simply put, they were not one of the best four sides in the Asian Cup. Alberto Zaccheroni’s men, as apparent as it can get, overachieved by making it to the semifinals