A first-half goal by Abdulla Bakheet and a late, second-half penalty conversion by Ali Mabkhout helped the UAE scramble to a nervy 2-0 win over Bahrain in the second Group H game, for both teams, of the second round of the 2026 Fifa World Cup Asian Qualifiers at the Bahrain National Stadium last night.
The UAE now head the four-team table with six points, ahead of Bahrain and Yemen who both have three points each.
Yet the game could easily have gone Bahrain’s way if not for some wayward attempts at goal in the second half and a couple of costly misses in the first.
The home side started more confidently than the visitors and could have gone 1-0 up in the 15th minute but Mohamed Marhoon sent the ball, off a corner kick, soaring over UAE goalkeeper Khalid Ali Mesmari and the crossbar.
Ten minutes later, it was the turn of the UAE players and a sizeable band of their supporters in a jam-packed stadium to look up to the skies in disbelief after Ciao Canedo broke through the Bahraini defence and sent the ball whizzing towards the goal only to see it bounce off the goalpost, straight into goalkeeper Ebrahim Latfallah’s midriff.
The UAE had clearly built up a nice rhythm by now and their sustained attacks paid off when, in the 36th minute, Ali Saleh fed a pitch-perfect pass to Bakheet whose powerful left-footed strike sent the ball into the back of the net.
Bahrain had a chance to draw level just before the first half drew to a close but Marhoon, with a clear shot at goal, slipped and sent the ball high over the bar.
Probably fired up by a pep talk by coach Juan Antonio Pizzi durng the break, the Bahrain players showed a lot more intent in the second half and the aggressive, attacking strategy almost paid off.
Almost, but not quite.
In the 59th minute, Marhoon evaded a couple of defenders but found Mesmari solidly in front of his powerful shot.
A minute later, Marhoon was in action again as he ran down the left of the box, then passed to Komail Al Aswad, whose left-footed kick sliced the ball past the right post.
Two minutes later, Abdullah Al Hashash’s went wide of the UAE goal and, in the 69th minute, a header by Hashash from right in front of the mouth of the goal went wide, past the left goalpost.
The UAE had been completely on the defensive in the second half but they were to have no respite as the Bahraini attacks kept on coming – albeit without any luck.
Finally, in the 82nd minute, the stadium heaved with expectation as Al Aswad stepped up to take a free kick from just outside the box after Ali Madan had been brought down by a ferocious tackle by Khaled Ebraheim.
The angle was just right for Al Aswad, whose natural inclination is to use his left foot, with the ball placed just outside the top left-hand side corner of the box.
But Al Aswad sent the ball curling over the bar and a collective sigh of disappointment swirled around the stadium.
The UAE now had to hold Bahrain off for just eight more minutes of regulation time. But they did better than just that with Mabkhout easily converting a penalty, given after Bahrain’s Mohammed Al Hardan fouled Bakheet in the box in the 90th minute.
The stadium suddenly started to empty, even though the scoreboard showed that seven minutes of injury time still had to be played.
But, since it wasn’t Bahrain’s night, it didn’t matter if there were seven extra minutes left to play because they were just not able to make them count.