UAE finish on top despite Bahrain draw at FIFA WC ’26 and Asian Cup qualifiers - GulfToday

UAE finish on top despite Bahrain draw at FIFA WC 26 and Asian Cup qualifiers

UAE’s Sultan Adil Alamiri celebrates after scoring against Bahrain during their World Cup - AFC Asian Qualifiers Group H match at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai on Tuesday. Reuters

Gulf Today, Staff Reporter

A resilient Bahrain snapped the five-game winning streak of the UAE with a 1-1 draw in the return leg match of the Preliminary Joint Qualifiers -- Round 2 for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027 in Dubai on Tuesday.

UAE’s dream of a perfect finish with six wins from as many games was dashed. Before this game, the UAE had won all of their matches. Despite the draw, the UAE finished on the top of their group.

Mahdi Abduljabbar Hasan broke the deadlock as early as in the fourth minute to put Bahrain ahead. He deceived UAE skipper and goalkeeper Khalid Eisa to find the back of the net, giving Bahrain a 1-0 lead.

Sultan Adil Al Ameri scored the equalizer for the UAE six minutes later. He carried a through ball from the centre of the pitch and tapped it into the net with a gentle caress with his right foot.

Both the teams kept on trying to add to their tally and take the lead but failed to penetrate the tight defence of each other. Yahya Al Ghassani added one more in the 27th minute but it was disqualified as an offside goal. Two minutes later, the Al Ain midfielder again came close to scoring one more for the hosts.

He picked up a pass and shot it with full strength but he lost the control, watching his curled effort fly narrowly over and taking a deflection on its way, to land on the top of the net.

Bahrain failed to capitalize on two chances in quick successions. Khalid made a brilliant save, when Madan Ali of Bahrain tried dispatch the ball into the net with a powerful strike. An agile Khalid parried the ball away with his hands, sending it back to deny the visitors a second goal.

Two minutes before that, Mohamed Marhoon missed a chance as he failed to latch the ball into the nets off a free-kick. He sent the ball flying outside the field with a misdirected shot.

The UAE, seeking to reach only a second World Cup in the country’s history, defeated Bahrain 2-0 in the corresponding fixture last November.

Paulo Bento’s side defeated their West Asian counterparts in their previous encounter and the Portuguese tactician was confident of achieving another three points.

Both teams had already sealed their place in the draw for the next round, which takes place later this month. The match was dead rubber and bore no consequences for either of the teams.

But Bahrain wanted to avenge their loss of the first leg and finish the round on a positive note while UAE were determined to keep their record perfect and finish the round with 18 points.

They wanted to keep the winning momentum going before joining the big boys in the third round.  

Earlier, a rampaging UAE, notched up five wins from as many games. They defeated Nepal 4-0, Bahrain 2-0, Yemen 2-1, Yemen 3-0, Nepal 4-0.

A fourth straight win had sealed their progress into the third round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and booked their ticket to the AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027.

The Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup is a bit complicated. The 20 lowest-ranked nations played two-legged ties in October 2023. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore and Yemen advanced. On Tuesday, Kuwait and China also advanced.

In the Round 2, those 10 winners joined the 26 best-ranked nations. The 36 teams were drawn into nine groups of four teams, with the top two nations going through to Round 3.

This stage began in November 2023 and was completed on Tuesday with several matches taking place simultaneously at various venues across the Asia.

In the Round 3, there will be only 18 nations, who will be drawn into three groups of six teams. Matches will be held from September 2024 through to June 2025. The group winners and runners up will take the first six places at the 2026 World Cup.

The six nations who finished in third and fourth move on to Round 4. The six teams in this stage will be drawn into two groups of three. They will play each other once, so two matches, on neutral ground in October 2025.

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