Dubai: "Taking part in a World Cup is every player’s dream. All of us in the team dream of pulling on the Emirati jersey there,” said United Arab Emirates' Ali Mabkhout during the qualifying campaign for Russia 2018.
As it turned out, however, Al-Abyad failed to make the 2018 Finals after placing fourth in their group in the final round of the Asian Qualifiers. Registering only four wins in their 10 matches, they failed to add to their solitary FIFA World Cup appearance, which came at Italy 1990.
Despite the disappointing outcome, the forward, now 29, at least made his mark in that qualifying campaign, finishing it as UAE’s second-highest scorer behind Ahmed Khalil with nine goals in total, four of them coming in that final round.
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The big stage
After making his club debut with Al Jazira, Mabkhout proved himself to be a solid performer for his country across the age groups. Called up for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009, he then made a brief appearance at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.
Having failed to score in either of those tournaments, Mabkhout bounced back at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia, ending the tournament as top-scorer with five goals (against Qatar, Bahrain, Japan and Iraq) to lead UAE to third place.
He excelled again at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017 with Al Jazira, scoring the goal that took the host club past Urawa Red Diamonds in the second round and into a semi-final against Real Madrid.
The front man was among the goals again when UAE hosted the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, finding the net against India, Thailand, Kyrgyz Republic and Australia on their run to the semi-finals and ending the tournament as joint second-highest scorer behind Qatar’s Almoez Ali.
History in the making
Two years on from the end of UAE’s disappointing Russia 2018 qualification campaign, the striker maintained his stellar form in the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023, scoring both goals as Al-Abyad came from behind to beat Malaysia 2-1 in their Group G opener.
In their second game, Mabkhout made history in striking a hat-trick against Indonesia to move past Italy 1990 veteran Adnan Al Talyani as UAE’s all-time leading scorer.
Mabkhout was on target in Al-Abyad’s third game, against Thailand, but could not prevent them from sliding to defeat, with a second loss following against Vietnam, a match the in-form striker missed through suspension.
Now under new head coach Jorge Luis Pinto, UAE are preparing to resume their qualifying campaign against Malaysia in October, with hopes still high among the fans that Mabkhout can lead the country back to the FIFA World Cup stage.
Sources: FIFA.com, AFP, AFC
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