Goalkeeper Khalid Eisa stood tall in penalties as UAE defeated Iraq 4-2 to set up a title clash with Oman in the Gulf Cup at the Jaber International Stadium on Tuesday. Both teams were locked 0-0 at stipulated and extra-time.
Once Eisa saved the first shot from Alaa Abdul-Zahra, Iraq was always under pressure and with Humam Tariq shooting over from the third shot, it was virtually all over for the white and green brigade.
For UAE everyone was on target - Ali Mabkhout, Omar Abdul Rahman ‘Amoori’, Khamis Esmaeel and Mohammed Al Menhali.
Earlier, Oman made it to the finals by beating Bahrain 1-0 with a first half own goal by Mahdi Abduljbar. This will be Oman’s first appearance in the final since 2009.
UAE have won the tournament twice in 2007 and 2013 and have finished as runners-up on three occasions. The finals will be played on Friday.
For the first time in the tournament, striker Ahmed Khalil took the field from the start and even had the privilege of donning the captain’s arm band. Thus UAE made their intentions clear that they will not be staying on their defences and will press for goals unlike the previous outings
Alberto Zaccheroni’s side had been so well organised in the defence that they came into the match as the only team to make it to semis without conceding a goal.
However, they didn’t set the scoreboard alight either and had just one goal, that too in the opener against Oman. Despite pressing hard, their forwards were once again incapable of finding the breakthrough.
In the 27th minute, Al Mabkhout sent in a cross from the right for Khalil who set it for Amoori but the latter’s left-footer didn’t have the power to beat Iraq goalkeeper Jalal Hachim.
Then in the 41st minute, Al Menhali had Hachim at his mercy after stealing a ball from the defender but his final attempt found the right bottom of the vertical. Just before the breather, a corner from Amoori slipped out of the hand of Hachim and Mabkhout followed it with a power-packed attempt but the goalkeeper, despite being off balanced, got his body in its way.
The first clear cut opportunity of Iraq came after the change of ends. Ali Atiyah set an overlapping Mahdi Kamil with a back pass but the latter’s shot sailed over the crossbar.
Mabkhout had a golden opportunity to nail one in the 58th minute after being set with a brilliant through by Amoori but the former made a mess of that chance by delaying his shot.
In the 62nd minute, a full-blooded left-footed attempt from Ali Salmeen was somehow blocked by an alert Hachim. Khalil was replaced by Ismail Al Hammadi in the 74th minute and he almost delivered for UAE in the dying minutes of the regulation time by finding Mabkhout with a pin point through. Mabkhout though followed it with a left-footer effort, Hachim dived full stretch to his left to just tip it wide off the goal.
In the extra-time UAE goalkeeper Eisa and Mohanad Salem made two brilliant saves. Salem heading out a goal-bound header from substitute Alaa Abdul Zahra from the goal-line, in the second half of the extra-time.
By N.D. Prashant
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