UAE huffed and puffed to settle for a goalless draw against a spirited host Kuwait to book a place in the semi-finals of the Gulf Cup at the Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium on Thursday.
The semis spots in Group ‘A’ were wide open with UAE and Saudi Arabia tied at four points each and Oman on three going into the final round.
However, with Saudi certain of losing in the other outing being simultaneously played against Oman 2-0, UAE couldn’t afford to lose as they would have still been thrown out the tournament on goal difference.
In the first half, with star mid-fielder Omar Abdul Rahman ‘Amoori’ being simply at his best, UAE had a fair share of the ball and better scoring opportunities.
However, UAE were in deep trouble after the change of ends once they decided to be on the defensive.
Kuwait, already knocked out of the tournament, were all over the UAE territory in the final quarter and they seriously threatened to play the role of a perfect spoiler.
The closest of calls being a scotching volley from substitute Abdullah Al Buraiki just sailing over the frame work in the 85th minute. Then goalkeeper Khalid Eisa came up with a couple of brilliant saves to keep their sheet clean and saved the day for UAE.
Earlier in the first half, every time the star mid-fielder Amoori had the ball, he looked threatening but lacked support upfront.
In the eighth minute, he found Ali Mabkhout with a pinpoint lob but the latter’s final attempt lacked power to beat the lone Kuwait goalkeeper Youssef Hameed.
Then in the 15th minute, Amoori himself made space to unleash a power-packed left-footed effort after being set by Mabkhout but again goalkeeper Hameed was alert enough to thwart the danger with a brilliant diving save to his left.
Later, in the 22rd minute, Amoori found Mohammed Al Menhali with a measured through from just outside the box. Al Menhali, however, couldn’t do any justice to it as his feeble effort landed straight into the outstretched hands of Hameed.
Immediately after the change of ends, UAE survived a close call. A free-kick from Bader Al Mutwa from the right was well headed by Sultan Al Enezi but UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa rose in time to push it wide.
The UAE would have scored had Kuwait defender Hussain Hakem not made a sliding goal-line save after an on the run lob from Ismaeel Al Hamadi had beat goalkeeper Hameed.
Thereafter, hosts went all out and UAE clearly had their backs to the wall and they would have heaved a huge sigh of relief on hearing the final whistle. UAE having finished second in their group with five points behind Oman, who have six from their three outings, will be playing the winner of Group B in the semi-final on January 2.
By N.D. Prashant
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