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Uri Levy

Qatar v UAE preview: The Arab derby in Abu Dhabi

Qatar have not let opponents score a single goal against them all tournament [AFP]

Date of publication: 28 January, 2019

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Both teams have surprised many in reaching this stage of the tournament.

The Asian Cup semi-finals are here, and as Iran prepare to take on Japan on Monday evening, on Tuesday - a boiling Arab derby will take place at Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi between Asian Cup 2019 hosts the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

On Friday, both teams' quarter-final clashes were exciting and thrilling, and set the stage for a mega-game between them in the semi.

And over the weekend, news broke that the
UAE authorities were bulk-buying 18,000 tickets for the match and giving them away for free, in order to keep the stadium full of support for the home nation - and to prevent Qatar fans from getting a seat.

Reports have since emerged that some of those who received free tickets from the Emirates' rulers have been seling them online, with tickets changing hands for as much as $1,700 - more than 4,000 times their face value.

In Friday's first match, Qatar played South Korea featuring Son Heung Min of Tottenham Hotspur at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. 

The first half saw heavy Korean possession, with tight defensive play from both teams, as the Qataris struggled to develop their game without two key players - Abdelkarim Hassan and Assim Madibo - both sidelined with yellow cards from previous games.

[Click to enlarge] We found tickets on one re-sale website
for £754, reports have circulated of seats changing hands
for double even that price


Felix Sanchez's Qatari squad played mainly from counter-attacks, but Almoez Ali and Akram Afif were not as lethal as they had been during the tournament's group stage. 

The second half kicked off with a completely different energy. Qatar was proactive, played forward through the middle and attacked the Koreans in wave after wave. 

South Korea did not back down, but Son couldn't create enough goal chances for his friends, and was out of his favoured position on the wing. Coach Paulo Bento again fielded the Korean star in the middle, unbalancing the Korean game, especially when facing a cohesive Qatari team, playing as one. 

When it looked standard time would remain without a goal, on the 78th minute the blockade was breached. Abdulaziz Hatem took the ball from Akram Afif around 25 metres from goal, and with two deft touches and a blazing shot, sent the ball behind goalkeeper Kim Seung Gyu to the back of the net, making it 1-0 to the Qataris. 

The Koreans responded immediately, but a goal a minute after the Qataris' score was ruled narrowly offside.

The Annabis kept their defence tight until the final whistle to secure an historic victory - reaching their first-ever Asian Cup semi-final, having been knocked out in the quarter-finals in both 2000 and 2011. 

Qatar has yet to concede a single goal at this year’s Asian Cup, equalling South Korea's 2015 record of consecutive clean sheets. Iran have likewise matched the impressive feat.



With their fans banned from entering the UAE due to the ongoing Saudi-led blockade, and facing sneers and whistles in every stadium through the tournament - the Qataris have achieved something tremendous here.

In Friday's second game, Hazza bin Zayed Stadium filled with almost 20,000 fans for the match between the home team, the United Arab Emirates, and the 2015 Asian Cup champions, Australia.

A pacy, fascinating first-half saw both sides with chances on goal - but the score remained 0:0 at halftime. 

With every dangerous attack from the Emiratis, the Socceroos answered with another of their own. Goalkeeper Matt Ryan was in the right place at the right time for his teammates - as was Khalid Eisa whose focused performance saved the UAE several times.

As the clock showed the 68th minute, a bizarre move changed the trajectory of the match. 

Australian centre-back Milos Degenek passed the ball back without noticing Ali Mabkhout, the 2015 tournament's top scorer. Mabkout quickly caught the ball, ran through Ryan and scored with a cool touch in front of an open net. 1-0 UAE, and the stadium, almost full, was in raptures.

Mabkhout has now scored nine goals in Asian Cup tournaments, with only Iran's Ali Daei (14) and South Korea's Lee Dong-gook (10) scoring more in the competition's history.

From that moment Mabkout's ball hit the back of the net, the match became a battlefield, in a scenario mixing drama, celebration and sacrifice on both sides.

Fares Juma lost consciousness after going head-to-head with Mathew Leckie on the ball. Juma received treatment and asked to come back on the field, while Leckie was bandaged with a headband - and Australia almost scored twice amid the carnage. 

Eventually, the match ended after a roaring 10 minutes of added time, with a huge roar from the stands in Al-Ain - the UAE hosts are in the semi-final of an Asian Cup for a second consecutive tournament.

The stage is now set for an epic battle between the UAE and Qatar, the dark horses of the tournament and a growing powerhouse of Asian football.

 

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

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