DUBAI — Ismail Al Hammadi’s 107th minute strike earned UAE a well deserved 2-1 victory over Iraq after a regular time 1-1 stalemate in the final of the 21st Gulf Cup at the National Stadium in Manama on Friday night.
The boys in white claimed their second title of the prestigious competition after they have won the trophy for the first time in 2007 at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Ahmed Khalil is the top-scorer and Omar Abdulrahman was adjudged best player of the tournament.
UAE led 1-0 at half-time. Abdulrahman fired home the first goal in the 28th minute after the talented playmaker waltzed his way through four Iraqi defenders and chipped the ball which hit one of the Iraqi players en route to the back of the net.
Iraqi keeper Noor Sabri had to watch the scene, enjoy it before he picked the ball from the net to restart the game. But the moment of delight and celebrations was about to change into a nightmare when Abdulrahman fell down on his back, but fortunately he was soon attended by the medical staff and came in again. It was apparently a very tough test for the young UAE players. The Iraqis started the game with fast counterattacks to press their opponents and force them to make mistakes, but without much success upfront.
The UAE lads soon pulled themselves together and bounced back with a lovely through pass from Habib Fardan to Ahmed Khalil who was too slow to make the best of the easy scoring opportunity. The first threat came in the 10th minute, when Abdulrahman who has successfully won the battle for possession in the midfield, tried his luck with a well-placed free kick, but Noor Sabri saved his overhead into a corner.
Towards the 28th minute, Abdulrahman controlled a beautiful pass from Amir Abdulrahman and tackled three Iraqi defenders in the style of Lionel Messi to put his side ahead. But the Iraqis refused to surrender and launched relentless attacks against UAE keeper Ali Khusaif who made some courageous saves. The Iraqis showed great improvement right from the beginning of the second half as the UAE lads retreated to their rear flank. At this stage, the UAE coach Mahdi Ali replaced Ali Mabkhout with Ismail Al Hammadi to pump in new blood and deploy more players in midfield leaving Ahmed Khalil to fight alone in the frontline.
The Iraqi coach made his third and last replacement by sending in Hussam Ebrahim to substitute Hassan Ibrahim and Ismail Matar replaced Ahmed Khalil from the UAE side with only 10 minutes remaining. Less than five seconds later, Younus Mahmood levelled for Iraq a short range shot. Mahmood came again in the 89th minute to outpace the UAE defender Mohammed Ahmed but Ali Khusaif blocked his late move while he was the keeper only to beat.