UAE not pressing panic button despite dismal draw

The UAE's Ali Mabkhout (far left) challenging Bahrain's Kamail Al Aswad for the ball during the teams' 1-1 draw in the Asian Cup Group A match on Saturday.
The UAE's Ali Mabkhout (left) challenging Bahrain's Kamail Al Aswad for the ball during the teams' 1-1 draw in the Asian Cup Group A match on Saturday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ABU DHABI • Eight years ago, Japan were held 1-1 by Jordan in their first group-stage game before going on to win the Asian Cup.

Italian Alberto Zaccheroni was the coach of the Blue Samurai then and he is optimistic history will repeat itself for 2019 host the United Arab Emirates.

It was a case of deja vu for the 65-year-old as his UAE side scored a late penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw with Middle East rivals Bahrain at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Substitute Ahmed Khalil smashed home his spot kick after Mohamed Marhoon handled the ball inside the penalty area, cancelling out Mohamed Al Romaihi's 78th-minute opener for Bahrain in the Group A meeting.

The late goal spared the world No. 79 the indignity of losing to a side 34 places below them in the Fifa rankings, but it would have done little to ease the pressure on Zaccheroni, who has come in for criticism throughout his time in charge of the UAE.

"When I was in charge of Japan, we ended with a draw in the first game of the 2011 Asian Cup against Jordan, then we won the tournament," said Zaccheroni. "The same scenario played out today, as we went behind.

"We had our chances but just couldn't take them. We struggled to supply the forwards at times and the players were getting a little frustrated. But we will have to deal with the pressure and be brave."

Without star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, who was ruled out of the tournament with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, the UAE lacked cohesion and composure in front of goal, with striker Ali Mabkhout missing several chances. The home side paid the price for their profligacy in the 78th minute when Al Romaihi bundled home after his initial header appeared to have crossed the line.

Jordanian referee Adham Makhadmeh then gave the host a lifeline when he pointed to the spot five minutes from time for what appeared to be an unintentional handball by Marhoon.

Khalil, appearing in his 100th international, displayed nerves of steel to smash the spot kick into the top corner.

Bahrain coach Miroslav Soukup refused to criticise the referee after the late setback.

"You could maybe say it was hard luck," said the Czech. "I didn't see it and I haven't seen the video, but the players were saying it wasn't a deliberate handball - so it's bad luck.

In another Group A match yesterday, Thailand lost 4-1 to India.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2019, with the headline 'UAE not pressing panic button despite dismal draw'. Print Edition | Subscribe