Abu Dhabi: The United Arab Emirates is dreaming of a first AFC Asian Cup final berth since 1996, and most fans are looking to key striker Ali Mabkhout to get them there, ahead of Tuesday's semi-final against Qatar. Emirati supporters were justifiably concerned when injury ruled dynamic playmaker Omar Abdulrahman out of the tournament, but for the second edition running, Mabkhout has emerged as the UAE's attacking focal point.
The Al Jazira forward was the star marksman of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, finishing as the top scorer with five goals, and has netted in the last four matches of the host nation's run to the semi-finals of this year's tournament.
He is now just four goals shy of Adnan Al Tanyani's all-time UAE record of 52 international goals, and, if he scores again in Tuesday's semi-final, he will become the first player in history to score five goals in successive AFC Asian Cups.
When assessing Alberto Zaccheroni's squad, it is difficult to overstate the importance of this predatory striker, but Mabkhout's goal rush comes after 2018 saw him score just twice for UAE, both against Laos, in his leanest ever year in the national team shirt.
That is all forgotten now. Four goals in two weeks are part of 10 in his last nine games for club and country, numbers which could have easily been more impressive, had the striker taken all of the chances available to him, particularly against Kyrgyz Republic.
Mabkhout will be in familiar surrounds in Tuesday's semi-final at Al Jazria's Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, where he has scored a large chunk of the 33 goals which won him the 2016-17 UAE Pro League Golden Boot.