The UAE maintained their defence of the Gulf Cup trophy through to the semi-final stages here with a 2-0 victory over Iraq at the King Fahd International Stadium on Thursday night.

Ali Mabkhout netted a brilliant brace for the second game in succession to ensure the reigning champions finished as the Group B runners-up behind winners Oman, who thrashed Kuwait 5-0. Abdulaziz Al Muqbali (2) and Said Salim (3) scored the Omanis’ goals in a rousing rout. The Whites shall now play hosts Saudi Arabia on Sunday (Kick-off: 10pm) in the last four, whereas Oman will meet Qatar (Kick-off: 6:45pm). UAE coach Mahdi Ali was forced into making one change from the side that drew with Kuwait 2-2 in their prior outing.

With central midfielder Amer Abdulrahman having failed to recover from a knock sustained against Jorvan Vieira’s team, Majed Hassan came into the starting XI alongside Khamis Esmail.

Ali otherwise kept faith with the playing personnel and formation that had served him so well for the first 35 minutes against the Kuwaitis on Monday evening.

Mohamed Ahmad and Mohanad Salem were deployed as the central partnership in defence in front of goalkeeper Ali Khaseif, with Walid Abbas and Abdulaziz Sanquor patrolling down the left and right flanks respectively. In front of Esmail and Hassan, the Whites’ two-goal hero from three days prior, Mabkhout, star man Omar Abdulrahman and livewire winger Ismail Al Hammadi looked to support solitary frontman Ahmed Khalil.

The UAE duly probed away for much of the opening 45 minutes, even if clear-cut chances were scarce prior to the half-time interval. Al Hammadi and Abdulrahman appeared their best outlets to break the deadlock, but – despite their energetic efforts – the ball just wouldn’t drop for them or the likes of Khalil and Mabkhout. A fraught foray became even tenser with the break looming as Oman surged into a commanding 2-0 lead over Kuwait within four first-half minutes over in the other final-round encounter at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium.

Ali Busaidy sent Al Muqbali scampering away and he converted with aplomb to put Paul Le Guen’s XI 1-0 up. It wasn’t exactly long either before they were two to the good too. Saad Suhail drilled in a cross-cum-shot from the right flank that Kuwaiti keeper Nawaf Al Khaldy could only parry out to substitute Salim for an easy tap-in.

Salim made it 3-0 to Oman three minutes after the resumption of play and – almost simultaneously – the UAE had conjured up a majestic opener in the King Fahd International Stadium. Sub Habib Fardan played a pass to Mabkhout some 30 yards out and – with little else on – he elected to try his luck from distance and found the top right-hand corner of Jalal Hachim’s net… see more

source: khaleejtimes