Abu Dhabi: A last gasp Ahmed Khalil penalty ensured host nation the United Arab Emirates a share of the spoils as they drew 1-1 with Bahrain in their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Group A opener on Saturday. With time running out, Khalil impressively held his nerve to convert from 12 yards for the 1996 AFC Asian Cup runners-up after Mohamed Al Rohaimi had given a resilient Bahrain the lead just 10 minutes earlier.
The draw, played out in front of a vocal crowd at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium, sees the regional rivals tied at the top of the Group A standings ahead of Sunday’s match between fellow group hopefuls India and Thailand.
After a cautious opening, it was to be the UAE who threatened first, striker Ali Mabkhout expertly finding Ismail Al Hammadi who raced into the area and fired narrowly wide of Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Shubbar’s far post with six minutes played.
With the Emiratis slowly but surely gaining an albeit tentative foothold in the game, Mabkhout scuffed an effort when well-placed and then blasted a shot over the bar from 15 yards after a fine Ali Salmin cross on 23 minutes.
Bahrain’s first genuine opportunity followed shortly after, but the impressive Al Rohaimi failed to find the target with a header from Komail Al Aswad’s curled delivery.
In the final moments of an intriguing first half, Al Aswad came within inches of handing Bahrain the lead only for his delightful free-kick from 25 yards to flash narrowly over the bar.
The opening moments of the second period duly followed the pattern of the first, as the UAE looked to impose themselves on their opponents who still carried a threat.
Indeed, UAE custodian Khalid Eisa had to be at his very best in the 52nd minute to palm away Ali Madan’s fierce drive and expertly block Al Rohaimi’s subsequent follow-up.
The seemingly omnipresent Mabkhout then flashed a shot inches wide of the target as the UAE continued to search for the breakthrough, before Al Rohaimi brought the best out of Eisa with a low drive that the goalkeeper did well to palm away to safety.
Bahrain’s resilience was though to pay handsome dividends on 78 minutes when they took the lead. Defender Sayed Redah Isa crossed to Al Rohaimi who saw his initial header cleared off the line before ramming home the rebound.
There was, however, more drama to come as Bahrain substitute Mohamed Mahroon, who had only just come on, handled in the area on 88 minutes and Ahmed Khalil rammed home the resulting penalty to ensure his side a point.
The UAE are next in action when they face India at the same venue on Thursday, with Bahrain set to face Thailand in Dubai on the same day.