Ali Mabkhout put one hand on the Asian Cup top-scorer award on Friday as the United Arab Emirates came from behind to beat 10-man Iraq 3-2 in a rollercoaster third-place playoff.
The Al Jazira marksman took his tally for the competition to five with a nerveless second-half penalty in Newcastle, putting him a goal ahead of partner Ahmed Khalil, who grabbed a brace.
“Before the match Ali was top scorer and I said if we get a penalty he would take it — but by then Ahmed had scored two and also had the chance for the golden boot,” UAE coach Mahdi Ali told reporters.
“It was a difficult decision but in the end the players stuck with my instructions.”
Khalil opened the scoring on 16 minutes, sliding the ball past goalkeeper Mohammed Hameed to complete a blistering counter-attack sparked by midfield wizard Omar Abdulrahman.
It was the stand-in captain’s first goal since his double against Qatar in their opening group match, and the Emiratis were on top in the early stages with Abdulrahman again pulling the strings.
But on 28 minutes the momentum swung towards Iraq when Waleed Salim’s deflected shot from inside the box looped over goalkeeper Khalid Eisa and into the back of the net.
The Iraqis then took the lead three minutes before half-time, winger Amjed Kalaf slotting in a rebound from close range after Eisa parried Ahmed Yaseen’s powerful shot.
Younis Mahmoud, the hero of Iraq’s 2007 Asian Cupwin, spurned a golden opportunity to extend the lead when he blazed wide when through on goal just after the restart.
Iraq would rue that miss six minutes after the break when Abdulrahman chipped a trademark ball over the defence to Khalil, who finished with aplomb to make it 2-2.
UAE soon went 3-2 ahead when Mabkhout rolled in his penalty on 57 minutes after being bundled over in the box by Ahmed Ibrahim, who was consequently sent off.
Iraq’s 10 men worked tirelessly for the equaliser in the remaining half-hour but UAE held firm to finish the tournament on a high in front of a healthy crowd of 12,000.
“The players did their best and we controlled the majority of the match,” said Iraq boss Radhi Shenaishil. “But there were a few individual mistakes and along with the red card that was the difference. However, finishing fourth is still a huge privilege.”
Mabkhout now has a strong chance of being crowned top scorer in the tournament, although Australia’s Tim Cahill will go into Saturday’s final on three goals.
“I hope he doesn’t overtake Mabkhout tomorrow,” exclaimed Ali. “I want my player to be top scorer.”
Khalil, later named man of the match, also backed Mabkhout.
“He deserves it,” the forward smiled, adding that he had no problem stepping aside for his strike partner to take the penalty. – Agence France-Presse