President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan will receive today members of the UAE national football team, winners of the 21st Gulf Cup Championship.
United Arab Emirates defeated former Asian champions Iraq 2-1 in extra-time to claim their second Gulf Cup title in a thrilling final. Substitute Ismail al Hammadi scored the winner in the 107th minute as thousands of UAE fans, flown in by chartered flights specially for the title showdown, roared in celebration.
Al Hammadi, who replaced Ali Mabkhout in the 62nd minute, latched on to a pass from Amer Abdulrahman and neatly slid the ball past the right of Iraqi goalkeeper Noor Sabri. Omar Abdulrahman had conjured the lead for the UAE in the 28th minute while Iraq captain Younis Mahmoud Khalaf equalised nine minutes from time. Abdulrahman’s solo goal was the best of the championship as the 21-year-old slipped into the penalty box before slamming the ball to the left of Sabri.
Iraq had to wait till the 81st minute to get back into the match with Khalaf, in front of goal, coolly slotting the ball past goalkeeper Ali Khaseif for his second goal of the championship. Khalaf could have sealed the match six minutes later when he did well to beat Abdulaziz Sanqor inside the penalty box but he shot directly at Khaseif. Mabkhout had the first attempt on goal in the eighth minute from the left and a few minutes later Ahmad Khalil, who scored the last-minute winner against Kuwait in the semi-finals, tried from the right but on both occasions Sabri came to Iraq’s rescue.
For Iraq, Ahmed Yasin and lone stiker Khalaf made a couple of encouraging moves midway through the first-half but were thwarted by UAE defenders. UAE could have doubled their lead early in the second half as Amer Abdulrahman’s powerful long ranger from the left went slightly wide and Khalil’s attempt from close was also off target.
Iraq came up with their own attack in the 58th minute when Adnan made a move from the left but his powerful left-foot drive was punched away by a diving Khaseif. UAE, made up mostly of players who were part of the national team which took part in the 2012 London Olympics, kept pressing for the second goal but failed to find a way past goalkeeper Sabri.
For UAE coach Mahdi Ali, the only one of two native coaches among the eight nations in the fray, it was a moment of crowning glory having earlier steered his team to victory in the 2008 AFC Under-19 Championship, a silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games and a berth in the 2012 Olympics. It was UAE’s second title in this prestigious regional championship, six years after having won it for the first time since its inception in 1970.