Ones to Watch: Ali Mabkhout (UAE)
Kuala Lumpur: Top scorer of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, Ali Mabkhout has grown in importance for the host nation as they look to win their first ever title.
If Omar Abdulrahman was the poster boy for the United Arab Emirates’ success in reaching the AFC Asian Cup last time out in Australia, and finishing third, then Ali Mabkhout was the side’s most productive performer.
The Whites’ number 7 was the tournament’s top goalscorer in 2015, bagging five goals in six appearances, including the fastest ever goal in the history of the AFC Asian Cup, scored 14 seconds into the UAE’s group stage match against Bahrain.
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Since 2015, Mabkhout has only gone from strength to strength for both club and country. A historic 2016/17 domestic campaign saw the striker break the record for most goals scored in a single UAE Pro League season, netting 33 times as his side Al Jazira were crowned champions with a record 68 points.
The victory meant Al Jazira would represent the nation in the 2017 FIFA Club World Club, which the UAE was set to host, and would see Mabkhout and co come to the forefront of global football with some memorable displays.
After overcoming New Zealand’s Auckland City in the first round, Al Jazira locked horns with 2017 AFC Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds. Mabkhout’s second-half strike sealed another victory for the Abu Dhabi side who set up a historic date with Real Madrid.
Mabkhout’s Al Jazira would go on to finish fourth, having been 1-0 up against the European champions until the final half an hour, but a 2-1 defeat followed by a 4-1 reversal against Pachuca meant a memorable campaign ended on a relative low.
📺HIGHLIGHTS— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) December 13, 2017
Some stunning saves, a shock opener and two thirds of the BBC on the scoresheet.
Plenty to see from 🇪🇸@realmadriden's 2-1 win over 🇦🇪@AlJazira_uae!
📼 Watch it here 👇https://t.co/F8i9s2fYyf pic.twitter.com/EQq1fS5inG
Records continued to bow to the UAE forward, who became the UAE Pro League’s all-time top goalscorer, topping the 120 goals mark early in the 2018-19 season. Mabkhout’s five goals in the 2018 AFC Champions League helped Al Jazira reach the round of 16, before exiting at the hands of eventual runners-up Persepolis.
At national team level, Mabkhout scored five in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 qualifiers and added four more in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, but there was disappointment at the end as the UAE ultimately failed to reach Russia, finishing fourth in their group.
As news of Abdulrahman’s season-ending injury emerged, UAE fans were left ruing the loss of their primary talisman. The playmaker’s absence from the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 means the burden on Mabkhout is now twofold.
The striker’s form has been hot this season, as he started the domestic league season with nine goals in his first eight matches for Al Jazira, benefitting from a newfound telepathic partnership with young playmaker Khalfan Mubarak.
The 23-year-old Mubarak is likely to be the man Alberto Zaccheroni turns to in order to replace Abdulrahman in January.
Should that be the case, the prospect of Al Jazira duo taking their partnership to the international stage would certainly be one to keep an eye on, and Mabkhout may well reap the rewards in terms of goals on home soil.
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