|UAE’s forward Ahmed Khalil (left) is tackled by Saudi’s defender Omar Hawsawi (centre) during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier football match between UAE and Saudi Arabia at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al-Ain on August 29. — AFP Photo|Viet Nam News
AL-AIN, United Arab Emirates — The UAE maintained their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia with a shock 2-1 victory at home against regional giants Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
It was only the fourth win in nine matches for the Emiratis, who took their tally to 13 points from nine matches to be placed fourth in Group B in the final round of Asian qualifying.
Japan top the standings with 17 points with Saudi Arabia and Australia on 16 each, meaning all the top four teams in the group are in with a chance of clinching the two automatic spots for next year’s finals.
The UAE’s victory on Tuesday in Al-Ain was all the more remarkable because they bounced back within a minute after being a goal down to stun the powerful Saudis.
The hosts had conceded a penalty when Mohamed Fawzi fouled Nawal al-Abid in the penalty area and Al-Abid himself slotted the ball home with a left-footed shot to put the Saudis ahead in the 20th minute.
But barely had the Saudi celebrations died down when the home side struck for the equalizer.
A Tariq Ahmed cross found Ali Mabkhout and the UAE star made no mistake with a right-footed shot from the centre of the box into the bottom corner.
Immediately after half-time, the Saudis had a golden opportunity to go ahead once again, but captain Osama Hawsawi’s powerful header thudded against the crossbar.
But with the match just an hour old, Ahmed Khalil completed a remarkable UAE revival with a stunning shot from well outside the box which flew to the top left corner of the net, beating Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Abdulla al-Mayouf all ends up.
The UAE lost Mahmoud Khamis in injury time after he received a second booking, but managed to hold onto their lead to keep their chances alive when they take on Iraq on September 5 in their last match. — AFP