SHAFAQNA – Ali Ahmed Mabkhout needed just 14 seconds to put the United Arab Emirates ahead as they went on to beat Bahrain 2-1 on Thursday and secure a rare Asian Cup quarter-finals appearance.
With the Group C encounter meandering towards a 1-1 draw, Bahraini captain Mohamed Hasan deflected a 73rd minute free-kick from Amer Abdulrahman into his own net to hand the UAE a second Gulf derby victory in Canberra following their opening 4-1 win over Qatar.
The UAE and Iran, who beat Qatar 1-0 in Sydney, top the pool on six points and are through to the last eight, with Bahrain and the Gulf Cup champions eliminated with a game to spare.
It is just the third time the UAE have made the quarter-finals and first since 1996.
“This team brings a lot of joy to our UAE nationals and the people are happy and proud,” UAE coach Mahdi Ali told reporters.
“This win will help relax us a bit with regards the pressure against Iran and we will try to go again with the same mentality.”
The Emiratis again looked most dangerous going forward, with their attacking quartet needing a matter of seconds to slice through a leaky Bahraini backline for Mabkhout to notch up his third goal of the tournament.
A neat lofted ball by Omar Abulrahman over the head of Bahraini defender Mohamed Duaij allowed Mabkhout to steal in and finish low under goalkeeper Sayed Mohamed Abbas to notch one of the fastest goals ever scored in the Asian Cup.
The UAE came close to adding a second in the 16th minute when some trickery down the right by Mohamed Abdulrahman led to a cross for Ahmed Khalil but the striker could only cannon a shot against the post.
While the UAE attack were purring, their defence lacked the same dominance and struggled to contain the impressive Jaycee John Okwunwanne, who was causing numerous problems in an entertaining first half.
The Nigerian-born striker headed the Bahrainis level in the 26th minute, rising above Hamdan Al-Kamali to meet Faouzi Aaish’s inswinging corner.
Okwunwanne came close to adding a second in the 29th minute when a Bahraini counter led to Rashed Al Hooti crossing from the left but the striker’s header was pushed behind by Majed Naser in the UAE goal.
Sadly, the second period fizzled out as the sun set in Canberra, with both sides sitting deeper.
Omar Abulrahman’s curling free kick just skimmed the top of the crossbar in the best chance of the half minutes before Hasan’s unfortunate own goal decided the contest.