The United Arab Emirates on Thursday inched close to qualification for the 2015 Asian Cup quarterfinals after downing Bahrain 2-1 in the Australian capital of Canberra.
It took just 14 seconds for the Emirati to draw first blood at Canberra Stadium when they took advantage of a dreadful opening by the Bahrainis. Moments after kickoff, Omar Abdulrahman dispossessed the defender before sending a long pass forward to Ali Mabkhout, who rounded the goalkeeper and snuck a low shot into the goal.
Bahrain looked to create a response in the ensuing 20 minutes with an attack lead by Jaycee John Okwunwanne. The strategy paid off in the 27th minute when the Nigerian-born striker rose above the UAE defender near the far post to head in his 22nd international goal from a corner kick.
Both Okwunwanne and Mabkhout had chances to score a second in the next 10 minutes; the Bahraini with another bullet header, and the Emirati with a shot nearly identical to his first – this time cleared off the line by a defender.
With both sides looking a little unstable on defence as the game progressed, neither country seemed disappointed to go into halftime with the score knotted at 1-1 and UAE dominating with 58 percent of the possession.
The first big chance of the second half came in the 62nd minute, when the UAE earned a free kick inside the penalty area after an illegal back pass to the goalkeeper. Omar Abdulrahman’s effort looped perfectly over the wall but didn’t come down fast enough to sneak under the bar.
Five minutes later, defender Mohamad Mahorfi needed to be stretchered off after appearing to seriously injure his adductor muscle.
The 73rd minute finally broke the deadlock when Amer Abdulrahman’s free kick was accidentally headed by Bahrain captain Mohamed Husain into his own goal to give the UAE a 2-1 lead which they successfully held through the remainder of the match.
The victors will face Iran on January 19 in Brisbane, with first place potentially on the line depending on Team Melli’s result against Qatar later on Thursday night in Sydney.