UAE beat Thailand 3-1 to keep World Cup hopes alive
It was a game of two halves. Having dominated Thailand in the first half, the UAE faced a strong fightback from their opponents in the second half before surviving some tense moments to complete a 3-1 victory in their AFC World Cup qualifying match at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai on Monday.
First half goals from Caio Canedo and Fabio Lima set the tone for the UAE dominance, but Thailand hit back in the second half with a wonderful goal from Suphanat Mueanta.
Thailand kept on searching for the equalizer, but a quick UAE counterattack in the injury time saw second half substitute Mohammad Juma Eid score the match-winning goal.
The UAE kept their second position in the Group G with 12 points from six matches, while table toppers Vietnam took a three point lead with a 4-0 win over Indonesia in the other game on Monday.
In the first half, the UAE tightened the screws on Thailand with a dazzling display of speed and relentless passing in the midfield,
If not for some uncharacteristic misses from the prolific Ali Mabkhout, the Whites dominance in the scoresheet could have been much bigger in the first 45 minutes.
Inspired by the emphatic 4-0 win in the first match against Malaysia, Bert van Marwijk team took control of the midfield from the start.
The combination of Fabio Lima and Caio Canedo tormented the War Elephant.
The two Brazil-born players brought all their Sama magic to the turf at the Zabeel stadium as their quick one-twos and deft touches in the final third created plenty of wonderful opportunities for the home team.
And the first goal came very early in the first half.
After the breathtaking pace with which the UAE started the game, a long ball into the Thailand box saw two defenders make a desperate attempt to clear. But the high ball fell on the feet of Caio just outside the penalty box.
The Brazilian showed great composure and sent an exquisite volley into the back of the net in the 14th minute to give the UAE an early lead.
Four minutes later, Thailand created a chance of their own, but Eakkanit Punya shot from a tight angle flew over the bar.
It was a rare lapse from the UAE backline that allowed Punya to be at the ends of a teasing cross from the left flank.
The home team, though, soon regained their possession-based football and Ali Mabkhout had a glorious opportunity in the 27th minute.
But the prolific striker Ali Mabkhout, after being released by a long ball, couldn’t beat the Thailand goalkeeper Sivaruk Tedsungnoen who threw his body to make a vital save for his team.
Tedsungnoen had a few more heart-stopping moments as the UAE kept on looking for the second goal, but a few of the crosses from the right flank failed to find a UAE shirt in the box.
The second goal eventually arrived in the 34th minute, thanks to a heady mix of individual brilliance and outstanding interplay in the final third.
After a superb move, Lima advanced to the Thailand box with the ball at his feet. Twisting and turning against two defenders, the Brazilian played a short pass to Khalifa Alhammadi who played the ball to Ali Mabkhout. The striker saw Lima’s run at the goalpost and sent a beautiful cross which Lima headed, beating Tedsungnoen in his near post.
But Thailand, who had won the first leg against the UAE 2-1 back in October 2019 before the Covid-19 disrupted the World Cup qualifying campaign, emerged from the tunnel in the second half with renewed vigour.
There was more conviction in their play and they enjoyed the lion’s share of the passion after the game resumed.
And they were rewarded for their positive response to the UAE’s first half dominance in the 54th minute when Suphanat Mueanta found himself in the right place at the right time as the 18-year-old striker found the back of the net with a crisp volley from a close range.
The goal brought the Thais back into the game and the visitors showed plenty of skills with their short passes keeping the UAE backline on their toes.
The Thai reaction pushed the UAE deep into their half as van Marwijk’s men looked to protect their lead, putting more and more bodies behind the ball.
But then in the 74th minute, a long ball releases Ali Mabkhout but the striker’s legendary finishing ability deserted him again inside the box, as the famous number’s shot was blocked by a defender.
Two minutes later, Ali Mabkhout found Lima inside the box, but the Brazilian could only hit the side netting.
Those two chances rejuvenated the UAE as they looked more comfortable on the ball again.
But Ali Mabkhout missed his easiest chance of the night in the 82 minute when his header somehow missed the target from a close range after a brilliant cross from Bandar Mohammed.
Despite those missed opportunities, the UAE survived the drama of the last few minutes to complete their second straight victory.