UAE go down fighting to Thailand; Saudi Arabia held - GulfToday

UAE go down fighting to Thailand; Saudi Arabia held

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UAE’s Ali Mabkhout in action during their 2022 World Cup qualifying match against Thailand in Bangkok on Tuesday. Reuters

Thailand toppled the UAE off the top of Group G, defeating them 2-1 on Matchday four of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Asian Qualifiers on Tuesday.

The War Elephants went into the game chasing a first home win to take them above leaders UAE at the summit of the group, while a draw would have been enough for the Whites to retain their place two points clear of their opponents.

The home support thought their side had taken an early lead when Supachok Sarachat broke free down the right and whipped a cross that evaded the UAE defence to reach Teerasil Dangda at the far post. Thailand’s number 10 tried to take it first-time but failed to connect properly and his effort sailed wide.

UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa was called into action in the 13th minute when Sarach Yooyen tried his luck from 30 yards out, but his powerful strike was punched away by the experienced goalkeeper.

Dangda made no mistakes in the 26th minute as he rose high between the two UAE centre-backs to head home Eakkanit Punya’s cross from the left wing, sending the hosts into the lead to the elation of the crowd at Thammasat Stadium.

UAE could have sunk deeper before the break, but the woodwork came to the rescue on two occasions. First, Sarachat’s drilled shot from a narrow angle was deflected off Mohammed Al Attas, wrong footing the goalkeeper and bouncing off the upright at the half-hour mark.

Seven minutes later, Dangda beat his marker to Theeraton Bunmathan’s cross, but watched his header cannon off the crossbar.

Having weathered the Thai storm, the UAE caught their hosts napping after a quick counter attack and Al Hassan Saleh delivered a perfectly-weighted cross for Mabkhout whose diving header at the far post nestled into the back of the net to restore parity in the last minute of the first half.

Akira Nishino’s men continued to rely on stretching the game and delivering crosses, and the UAE’s inexperienced defence was exposed once more six minutes after the restart. Sasalak Haiprakhon whipped a cross past all Emirati defenders for Punya who met it with a first-time finish, beating Eisa at the far post to put Thailand into the lead again.

Thailand dominated possession for the remainder of the half, but chances were few and far between. Meanwhile, Bert van Marwijk’s UAE relied on long balls to Mabkhout and substitute Ahmed Khalil who came closest in added time, receiving the ball inside the box, but fluffed his lines, shooting wide with his left.

The result sees Thailand move to the top of the group with seven points, level with Vietnam and one point ahead of the UAE, who suffered their first defeat under van Marwijk.

Thailand travel to Malaysia next month, while the UAE face the challenge of Vietnam in Hanoi.

Meanwhile, Palestine held three-time Asian champions Saudi Arabia to a goalless draw.

Facing a Saudi side ranked 31 places above them in the latest FIFA rankings, 101th Palestine dominated from start to finish in front of a large home crowd, but ultimately could not convert their chances.

Palestine had a golden chance to open the scoring inside 10 minutes after Mohammed Yameen recovered the ball and fed Nazmi Al Badawi in the middle of the pitch. The US-born midfielder released Saleh Chihadeh through on goal. Chihadeh went for power but goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais was alert and punched away the effort.

The Saudis responded in the 14th minute as Abdullah Otayf supplied the ball out wide for his Al Hilal teammate Yasser Al Shahrani who squared for Yahya Al Shehri to control and fire from close range. Goalkeeper Rami Hamadeh rose to the occasion and made a quick reflex save to deny Shehri.

Palestine came close again halfway through the second period, and against it was Switzerland-based Chihadedh threatening the Saudi defence.

Islam Batran advanced through the middle and supplied a defence-splitting pass for Chihadeh inside the box. The 25-year-old turned and fired first time, but his strike went agonisingly close off the wrong side of the post.

With five minutes left on the clock, Mahmoud Abu Warda sent a diagonal long ball for fellow substitute Khaled Salem who outmuscled his marker, controlled inside the box with only the goalkeeper to beat, but his attempted lobbed finish missed the target, leaving him to rue the chance as Palestine settled for a stalemate.

The result means it is Uzbekistan who lead the group with six points from three games, while Saudi Arabia come second with five points. Palestine and Singapore have four points each.

Next up for Palestine is an away trip to face Yemen, while the Saudis travel to Tashkent for the clash with Uzbekistan.