Abu Dhabi: Host nation the United Arab Emirates kept alive their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 title ambitions on Monday, as an extra-time Ahmed Khalil penalty helped secure a hard-fought 3-2 win over Kyrgyz Republic and a place in the quarterfinals.
In truth, Alberto Zaccheroni’s side struggled for large periods of a game which saw Khalil’s success from 12 yards seal their progress only after Kyrgyz Republic had twice come from behind following Khamis Esmaeel’s early opener at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium.
On a night when tournament debutants Kyrgyz Republic shone brightly, the UAE’s victory sets up a quarterfinal showdown with Australia in Al Ain on Friday, and maintained Emirati hopes of claiming a first-ever Continental crown.
Entering the game as Group A winners, the UAE began brightly, and after Valeri Kichin’s splendid last-ditch tackle had robbed Ali Mabkhout when the striker was bearing down on goal, they went ahead in the 13th minute through a fine Esmaeel header from Ismaeil Matar’s corner.
Having impressed during the group stage, Kyrgyz Republic bounced back in fine fashion shortly before the half-hour mark, Akhlidin Israilov’s delightful pass finding Akhlidin Israilov who rounded UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa and finished with aplomb to draw his side level.
Clearly buoyed by the equaliser, Kyrgyz Republic refused to concede an inch to their opponents, although Matar threatened to restore the UAE’s lead when he fizzed a shot from distance narrowly over as the first half drew to a close.
After the break, Mabkhout almost immediately headed Bandar Mohammed’s pinpoint cross inches wide of the post, before a curling Kichin delivery eluded its intended target and thudded against Eisa’s crossbar with the custodian beaten.
However, any momentum Kyrgyz Republic had been building was brought to a sudden halt on 64 minutes as the UAE went ahead once again, this time Mabkhout collecting Amer Abdulrahman’s pass and drilling the ball beyond Kutman Kadyrbekov in the Kyrgyz Republic goal.
To their eternal credit, Kyrgyz Republic refused to buckle, and after Vitalij Lux, who bagged a hat-trick last time out, had flashed a late effort agonisingly wide, Tursunali Rustamov headed home a last gasp equaliser following Anton Zemlianukhin’s cross to send the pulsating match into extra-time.
Mabkhout spurned an early chance in the second minute of the additional 30, before — just 60 seconds later — the striker was brought down in the area by Bekzhan Sagynbaev. Substitute Ahmed Khalil stepped up to convert the resulting penalty and put his side ahead yet again.
Bakhtiyar Duyshobekov’s header then brushed an upright and the seemingly omnipresent Rustamov crashed a shot against the bar in the final seconds. However, it was not to be though for the Central Asians, as the UAE held firm to seal their ticket through to the last eight and signal Kyrgyz Republic’s departure from a competition in which they had often more than held their own.