UAE’s Ali Mabkhout (left) vies for the ball with Malaysia’s Lawrence Corbin-Ong during their World Cup qualifier in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
Ali Mabkhout struck twice as the UAE came from behind to defeat Malaysia 2-1 in their Asian Qualifiers Group G tie for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 on Tuesday.
Coach Bert van Marwijk was given a reality check on his competitive debut in the UAE dugout as Malaysia took the lead inside the first minute, sending the huge crowd at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium into raptures.
Matthew Davies advanced down the right flank and supplied a pinpoint cross for Syafiq Ahmad who rose high in the space between the Emirati centre-halves and guided a towering header into the back of Khaled Eisa’s net.
Ahmad came close to doubling the hosts’ advantage inside the opening quarter of an hour after being fed with another Davies cross, but the UAE defence were able to close down the forward.
Mabkhout thought he had brought the Emiratis level 29 minutes in after the Malaysian defender slipped allowing him to receive Khalil Ibrahim’s cross with plenty of space and time inside the box, but the striker’s finish was heroically saved by goalkeeper Farizal Marlias.
With just two minutes to the break, Mabkhout finally did restore parity in a similar fashion to Malaysia’s opener. It was Mohammed Al Menhali who chased the ball down the right and crossed for the number 7 to head home the equaliser.
An action-packed second half saw the two teams exchange attacks, but it was Mabkhout again who settled matters, latching on to a long ball by goalkeeper Eisa before slotting home what would prove to be the winner in the 74th minute.
The remaining 15 minutes witnessed an avalanche of Malaysian attacks. Safawi Rasid came as close as possible to find the back of the net with 12 minutes to go, but the number 11 watched in agony as his ball bounced of the woodwork.
The home crowd thought their side had finally got a draw in added time as Brendan Gan struck from long range, but Eisa produced a fine reflex save to deny Malaysia an equaliser and hand his side their first three points.
UAE will resume their campaign against Indonesia on Oct. 10, while Malaysia travel to Hanoi to face Southeast Asian rivals Vietnam.
Elsewhere, Thailand flexed their muscles in the second half to beat Indonesia 3-0 in Group G.
It was Thailand’s first win of their campaign, having drawn 0-0 with Vietnam last week, while Indonesia suffered a second consecutive defeat after having fallen 3-2 to Malaysia on Matchday One.
Thailand controlled the early proceedings while Indonesia were content to sit back and hit on the counter-attack.
But neither side made a breakthrough in the first half.
Simon McMenemy’s Indonesia had an opportunity in the 51st minute when Thai defender Theeraton Bunmathan fouled Vermansah just outside the box, but Bachdim’s free-kick missed the target by mere inches.
The narrow escape woke Thailand up and they opened the scoring in the 55th minute when Sarachat was left with space to let loose a crackling strike from outside the box.
Things got from bad to worse for Indonesia eight minutes later when Thailand were awarded a penalty after Andritany Ardhiyasa was penalised for his tackle on Sarachat, and Bunmathan neatly converted the spot-kick with a fine shot to the top left corner of the net.
Bunmathan and Sarachat had tormented Indonesia throughout and an exchange of passes in the 72nd minute saw Sarachat making it 3-0.
Indonesia will be aiming to bounce back against the UAE to Dubai on Oct. 10, before Thailand host the West Asians five days later.
Meanwhile, Kamil Al Aswad’s 77th minute strike secured Bahrain a hard-fought 1-0 win over Cambodia in Group C.
Cambodia played an ultra defensive game and hardly threatened the visitors.
Cambodia continued to frustrate Bahrain in the second half as they soaked up the pressure.
Bahrain had chance in the 76th minute as Aswad glancing header forced Sou into a fingertip save.
However, Cambodia’s resistance finally broke a minute later after Aswad found the back of the net when he slotted home a rebound from inside the box off a corner.
In another match, Japan were rarely troubled in their opening Group F fixture, defeating Myanmar 2-0.
Early goals from Shoya Nakajima and Takumi Minamino proved decisive for Hajime Moriyasu’s side, who began their campaign with a minimum of fuss ahead of next month’s fixtures against Mongolia and Tajikistan.
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