UAE 2-1 Uzbekistan: Amer the star in Omar's absence
Two superb assists from Amer Abdulrahman helped the UAE come from behind to clinch a crucial Asian Cup qualifying Group E victory over Uzbekistan.
Talk prior to the clash at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium had been dominated by the absence of Omar Abdulrahman but it was namesake Amer who demonstrated his growing influence on Mahdi Ali’s team.
The Whites fell behind in the 16th minute as Shohruh Gadoev punished Khamis Esmail horrendous blunder. However, resilience has been a key factor of Mahdi’s reign and after Amer had crossed to the far post for Ahmed Khalil to score.
Victory salute: Khalil celebrates in front of a bumper home crowd (Photo: Sudarsan Gopalan).
And less than three minutes later Ali Mabkhout profited from Amer's long ball forward to hand the UAE three precious points and stretch their unbeaten run to 13 games.
Following a couple of early corners it looked like the UAE had weathered Uzbekistan’s early threat until they fell behind in the 16th minute. Defensive lapses were a worrying footnote of the side’s Gulf Cup success and they were again to blame as Gadoev put the visitors in front.
The danger appeared to have been dealt with as Odil Akhmedov was crowded out in the area but as the ball broke to Khamis Esmail will know what he was thinking as he calmly side-footed across goal. Gadoev gleefully accepted the early gift and buried a left-footed shot unnervingly past Ali Khaseif and into the far corner.
The goal silenced the home crowd, which until that point been vociferous in its support of their returning heroes, who were playing in the UAE for the first time since their Gulf Cup triumph in Bahrain.
Khamis almost atoned for his mistake in the 23rd minute as he picked out Ali Mabkhout with a peach of a pass, before his club-mate back-heeled for Abdulaziz Sanqour on the overlap. The left-back’s cut-back was turned behind though by Anzur Ismailov with Habib Al Fardan waiting to tap home.
Mabkhout was beginning to assert himself at his home ground and having played in Ismail Al Hamadi – whose stab goalwards was saved by Ignatiy Nesterov – he later almost punished Artyom Filiposyan’s poor header with an acrobatic overhead.
The Uzbeks would remain a threat on the break with Geynrikh stretching the UAE backline on more than one occasion, but the hosts were almost level before the break as Khamis’ excellent drive was well saved by Nesterov.
The UAE rode their luck at the beginning of the second half and Timur Kapadze should have doubled the visitors’ lead but contrived to volley over from eight yards. And the hosts took full advantage of his profligacy as they turned the game on its head in three frantic minutes that had the bumper crowd on its feet.
First Khalil followed in after his initial free kick hit the wall to side-foot home Abdulrahman’s pin-point cross at the far post.
Celebration: Khalil thankful after firing UAE level (Photo: Sudarsan Gopalan).
And Bani Yas midfielder Abdulrahman was the architect again moments later as Mabkhout raced onto his excellent ball over the top before dinking delicately past Nesterov.
Winning goal: Mabkhout clips over the advancing keeper to send the home fans wild (Photo: Sudarsan Gopalan).
The turnaround led to wild scenes from the majority of the 21,327 in attendance but the UAE were almost pegged back as Vitaliy Denisov let fly from range. And they would be grateful to two fine save from Khaseif eight minutes from the end as the Jazira keeper foiled both Ulugbek Bakaev and Gadoev while Tursunov struck the post.
The boycott of the national team is well and truly over as 21,327 fans did their bit to help the UAE to a vital win. It is clear the difference playing in front of a large crowd makes to the players. The UAE FA will hope they can keep the post-Gulf Cup glow shining bright.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Amer Abdulrahman (UAE)
There were fears ahead of the game that the UAE would struggle without Omar Abdulrahman yet in his absence his namesake Amer was outstanding. The Bani Yas midfielder has been an unsung hero for the national team under Mahdi Ali but his two assists here were spectacular.
Mahdi’s boys go marching on with their attacking play as fluent as ever even without the missing Omar Abdulrahman. Yet there remain question marks over there defensive strength and on a different day they well have found themselves too far behind before the recovery started.