Khalil penalty kick earns hosts UAE draw in Asian Cup opener against Bahrain


Ahmed Khalil scored a penalty kick for United Arab Emirates (UAE) two minutes from full time to spare the hosts’ blushes as they secured a fortuitous 1-1 draw with Bahrain.

Khalil smashed home his spot kick on Saturday in the opening game of the 2019 Asian Cup after Mohamed Marhoon was judged to have handled the ball inside the penalty area.

It helped to cancel out Mohamed Al Romaihi’s 78th minute opener for Bahrain in the Group A meeting.

The late goal spared the host nation the indignity of losing to a side 34 places below them in the FIFA rankings.

But it would have done little to ease the pressure on coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who has come in for criticism throughout his time in charge of the UAE.

“The performance in the first half was aggressive, and I thank the players for fighting, but I told them what matters is to evolve our performances from one game to the next,” said Zaccheroni.

“We will correct all the mistakes and learn lessons from them for the next game against India and hopefully the performance will be better.”

The Italian, who won the Asian title in 2011 when he was in charge of Japan, fielded a side on Saturday that lacked cohesion and composure in front of goal.

Striker Ali Mabkhout missed several chances to put his side in front.

Ismail Al Hammadi almost gave Zaccheroni’s side the perfect start after seven minutes when he was sent racing in on goal by Mabkhout.

But Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Shubbar denied the winger.

Mabkhout pulled an effort across the face of goal while later in the half he sent a half-volley well over the bar.

Bahrain gradually pulled themselves into contention with Al Romaihi threatening in attack.

Komail Al Aswad was inches away from giving Miroslav Soukup’s side the lead when his free kick just cleared the crossbar on the stroke of half-time.

Al Romaihi had given the home defence trouble throughout the match with his height and physical presence.

It came as no surprise that it was the frontman who put Bahrain ahead, scoring at the second attempt after indecision in the UAE defence.

Soukup’s side looked set to take all three points, but the referee pointed to the penalty kick spot when the ball brushed Marhoon’s hand and Khalil scored to rescue his team.

The UAE face India and Bahrain play Thailand in the second round of group matches on Thursday.

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