Iraq 2-3 United Arab Emirates: UAE take home bronze after superb tournament
Omar Abdulrahman tormented the Iraqis all night.

An opening goal from Ahmed Khalil gave the UAE an early lead before goals from Waleed Salim and Amjed Kalaf gave the Iraqis the advantage going into the break. Khalil got his second barely five minute into the second period before a goalkeeping error gave Mabkhout his fifth goal of the tournament.

The game no team ever wants to be a part of, the third-fourth place play-off. To come so close only to fall at the penultimate hurdle often takes the wind out of the sails meaning the game whilst looking good on paper can be a slow burner on the day. However this game appeared to differ from the norm. Both teams weren’t expected to make it this far and as a result this game was expected to be entertaining especially with the UAE attack involved. They have been the surprise of the tournament with coach Mahdi Ali forming his young attack around starlet Omar Abdulrahman. Even before this tournament he had attracted the interest of Europe’s top clubs.

These two sides have the best record of any country hailing from the Middle East in the history of the Asian Cup. The Iraqis won it in 2007 whilst the UAE finished second in 1996.  The UAE came into this game on the back of a disappointing showing against the hosts, Australia, in the semi-final. They conceded twice early on and after the game coach Ali said; “This is a big lesson and we need to learn you have to concentrate for 90 minutes”. The Lions of Mesopotamia meanwhile were knocked out against a South Korea side that were just too good for them in the end.

A goal in each half for the Taeguk Warriors proved to be the undoing of the Iraqis as they went into today’s match knowing that recent history was not on their side. The past two meetings between these sides have been Gulf Cup Finals and the UAE have won both. Iraq’s manager, Radhi Shenaishil, is sending his team into the game knowing that a permanent position could on offer if they win. He is on loan for the tournament from Qatar Sports Club, he said, “I’ve had talks with Iraqi FA but there has been no pen to paper yet”.

The first chance of the game fell to Ahmed Khalil for the UAE but he was unable to direct it goal wards with a path to goal opening up in front of him in the 12th minute. Four minutes later they took the lead thanks to a brilliant counter attack led by Omar Abdulrahman. He was involved in a superb one-two in the centre of the pitch before driving forward and feeding Khalil who this time made no mistake.

The Iraqis nearly equalised with a fortunate deflection in the 20th minute of the game. The ball came off of Mahmoud and was lifted over keeper Khalid Eisa but couldn’t come down quick enough as the ball smacked off the crossbar and into Eisa’s hands. They did eventually equalise in the 28th minute thanks to another deflection off of the shot from Waleed Salim. He had the ball inside the box and before he sent his shot across goal. It was deflected off a defender sending it to the near post and catching out Eisa.

They took the lead just over ten minutes later when one of their best players Ahmed Yasin, cut inside and shot from the edge of the box only for Eisa to palm it away. Unfortunately for him Amjed Kalaf was waiting in the box and he tapped it home to put the Lions of Mesopotamia in front as the half came to a close.

However, the start of the second half couldn’t have gone much worse for the Iraqis. Omar Abdulrahman single-handedly took out the entire Iraqi defence with a chipped pass through to Khalil who made it 2-2. Then keeper Mohammed Hamed had the ball in a seemingly harmless situation but he passed the ball straight to Ali Mabkhout who ran into the box before being brought down by defender Ahmed Ibrahim. The penalty was given and Ibrahim was sent off before Mabkhout got back to his feet and sent the keeper the wrong way to put the UAE 3-2 up.

That goal sent Mabkhout clear in the race for top scorer with 5 ahead of Jordanian Hamza Al-Dardour, who scored all 4 of his goals against Palestine in one match, and Mabkhout’s countryman Ahmed Khalil. Tim Cahill and Heung-Min Son are the only players who could still realistically catch him; Cahill would have to score twice to draw level while Son would need a hat trick in the final tomorrow.

The rest of the half was a bit disappointing with the UAE content to sit on their lead and the Iraqis having few chances to draw level. One chance fell to Mahmoud after Dhurgham Ismail sent in the free kick only for Mahmoud to head straight at the keeper. Walid Abbas had a great chance in the 74th minute to put the UAE further ahead after Hamed could only get a small hand to the in swinging corner. However he could only head the ball onto the base of the post in the last decent chance of the game.