Group A: India 0-2 UAE
Abu Dhabi: Host nation the United Arab Emirates edged a step closer to a place in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019’s Round of 16 on Thursday as a hard-fought 2-0 win over India saw Alberto Zaccheroni’s side go top of a decidedly tight Group A.
On a night of high-octane entertainment at a wonderfully atmospheric Zayed Sports City Stadium, goals from Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout helped secure the vital victory, one which reignites the UAE’s aspirations of reaching the knockout phase following a 1-1 draw with regional rivals Bahrain on Matchday One.
With all still to play for in Monday’s final set of fixtures, the table-topping Emiratis are on four points, one ahead of India in second and third-placed Thailand after the Southeast Asians beat Bahrain 1-0 earlier in the day.
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Under the watchful gaze of CONCACAF referee Cesar Ramos, it was India that fashioned the game’s first genuine chance when Ashique Kuruniyan darted into the area before unleashing a fierce drive which forced goalkeeper Khalid Eisa into a fine save on 11 minutes.
As the Emiratis struggled to gain a foothold, Eisa was called into action once again in the 23rd minute, this time reacting superbly to repel a powerful Sunil Chhetri header.
However, and despite their initial woes, the UAE went ahead shortly before half-time. Lacklustre Indian defending allowed Mabkhout space in which to find Mubarak who fired home past Indian custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
In the final moments of a pulsating first period, Chhetri came within inches of drawing his side level, but his drilled effort fizzed just wide of Eisa’s far post.
The game’s frenetic pace showed no sign of abating after the break, as first India substitute Jeje Lalpekhlua thumped a shot narrowly off target and then Udanta Singh rattled the UAE bar with a rasping drive from a narrow angle.
India’s incessant search for an equaliser was, nevertheless, periodically punctuated by a spell of relative UAE control, and, with Mubarak continuing to shine, Ismail Al Hamadi’s 74th minute shot cannoned of a post and then Gurpreet before rebounding to safety.
With India failing to find any inroads into a resolute UAE defence, the UAE duly doubled their advantage in the final moments when Mabkhout expertly converted Ali Salmin’s pass to assure his side of the victory despite Mohamed Gharib crashing the ball against his own woodwork deep into stoppage time.
The UAE will now look to guarantee their place in the Round of 16 when they face Thailand in their final group stage game on Monday, while India – still well and truly in contention for a place in the knockout phase – are set to play Bahrain in Sharjah on the same day.
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