United Arab Emirates & Bahrain Draw To Open 2019 Asian Cup

Opening Ceremonies from the 2019 Asian Cup Tournament hosted by the UAE. Photo Courtesy of Asian Football Conference.

The 2019 Asian Cup tournament kicked off in the late morning hours here on the east coast of the United States. The 17th edition of the tournament is being played in the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi took center stage for the opening fixture complete with a larger than life trophy in the middle of the pitch during the opening ceremony. The giant inflatable replica is a fitting symbol, given that the field is larger than ever before. As typical for most continental tournaments, the hosts got to open the proceedings against regional rival Bahrain. 

The UAE entered the tournament as the 79th ranked nation and faced adversity often from the 113th ranked Bahrain (for reference, we know these rankings don’t mean much). The opening fifteen minutes of the match found both nations eager to get on the front foot and attack. Unfortunately, the attackers found themselves a bit too eager with four offsides being called within the early moments.

Both nations were given opportunities from the corner flag within the first half but their efforts would be quashed by a great showing of defense. For those watching AFC action for the first time, the style of play is quite physical and could be a indicator of what will come from the rest of the tournament. However, every referee has his limit and the UAE found themselves in the books twice as Amer Abdulrahman and Khamis Esmaeel were disciplined for a pair of rash challenges.

The majority of the first half was played on the wings which is customary for both of these nations. With speedy and skilled wingers, you will usually find the build up of play coming from the flanks while hoping to find a striker in the box. The heat map below shows the preference in tactics for both nations.

First Half Heatmap provided by The Asian Football Conference
First Half Heatmap provided by The Asian Football Conference

The second half would find play come more direct for both Bahrain and the UAE. Despite UAE dominating possession throughout the match, Bahrain would find multiple chances in the 52nd minute. A strong effort from Ali Jaafar Madan’s left foot was saved by UAE’s keeper Khalid Bilal. Bilal would come up big again moments later coming off his line to deny Mohamed Al Rohaimi’s breakaway attempt.

The UAE would respond with a flurry of possession beginning in the 60th minute that would provide three attempts from the corner flag. Bahrain’s defense would prove up to the task on the first two efforts, but were paid a visit from lady luck on the third. The third corner would find the foot of Ali Mabkhout whose blasted effort just bent beyond the near post and out for a goal kick.

In the 77th minute it was near disaster for the UAE as an Olimpico was nearly surrendered from the right corner flag. The next corner would prove fruitful for Bahrain as Sayed Isa tracked down an over hit service and played a cross of his own into the six yard box. The headed effort from Mohamed Rohaimi was cleared off the line but his follow up would find the back of the net to give Bahrain the lead.

In the 85th minute, the UAE would find their best chance their best chance after playing through the attacking midfield. After a clever dribble into the edge of the box, a quick give and go between Ismail Al Hamadi and Saif Rashid allowed Rashid to blast an effort on frame that was turned away by Bahrain’s Sayed Alawi.

Heartbreak would strike for Bahrain in the 87th minute after a penalty was awarded to the UAE after a poorly judged hand ball against Bahrain’s defense. The effort would be hit harder than a Jamie Vardy penalty by Ahmed Khalil bringing the match even at one.

The UAE find themselves lucky to walk away with a point in the contest despite controlling the play throughout the match. For Bahrain, they will look to keep marching forward in Group A when attempting to quell Thailand on Thursday.

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