Kuwait City: The UAE booked their place in the Gulf Cup of Nations final with a dramatic penalty-shootout victory against Iraq in Kuwait on Tuesday.
The UAE team, bidding for a third regional title, triumphed 4-2 from the spot after the match at Kuwait City’s Jabel Al Ahmad International Stadium had finished goalless.
Mohammed Barghash scored the deciding spot-kick following Iraqi misses from substitute Alaa Abdul-Zahra and Humam Tariq. The UAE, playing their first tournament with new manager Alberto Zaccheroni in charge, now face 2009 champions Oman in Friday’s final, in a repeat of last month’s Group A opener. They defeated Bahrain 1-0 in the evening’s other semi-final.
Despite the match containing few clear-cut chances, the UAE had the better marginally of the first half and really should have taken the lead just before the break. Having broken down Iraq’s left flank, Barghash advanced into the penalty area but, instead of pulling the ball back to a teammate, the full-back attempted to beat Jalal Hassan from an acute angle. The Iraq goalkeeper pushed the ball onto his near post; Ali Mabkhout and Omar Abdulrahman admonished Barghash for not passing.
The UAE had earlier had the ball in the back of the Iraq net, but defender Khalifa Mubarak had clearly fouled Hassan as the pair contested Abdulrahman’s lofted free kick. At the other end, Khalid Essa blocked Ali Husni’s close-range effort.
Iraq began the second half brighter, but Mahdi Kamel shot off target and Husni curled a tame finish at Essa following a promising run into the UAE area. Mabkhout, scorer of his side’s only goal thus far in the tournament – against Oman on December 22 – then wasted a decent chance on 64 minutes when Abdulrahman sent him through on goal. The Al Jazira striker hesitated uncharacteristically and the opportunity was lost. Not long after, Ali Salmeen tested Hassan from range.
The UAE looked poised to snatch the victory in the final minute, but Mabkhout dragged his left-footed shot across goal when played in by substitute Ismail Al Hammadi.
Iraq thought they had won it in the second period of extra time, when Abdul-Zahra looped a header over Essa, only for Mohanad Salem to clear on his goalline.
It was then left to Barghash to seal the victory, after Essa had saved well from Abdul-Zahra and Tariq had blazed his penalty over the UAE crossbar. The national team go into the weekend’s final seeking their third Gulf Cup crown having won the trophy in 2007 and 2013.