One down, enough to go, as Bert van Marwijk and the United Arab Emirates made a quick return to action in their quest to reach the Fifa World Cup in Qatar next year. After a yo-yo campaign, with upheaval and countless delays due to COVID-19, the UAE finally made some headway in their quest to reach Group G by reducing Malaysia by 4-0 in fine style. Despite the skew, the leaderboard was not as flattering as the show, as the UAE tarnished the visitors’ goal at Dubai’s Zabeel Stadium. Goal machine Ali Mabkhout grabbed the starting goal at 19 minutes, but – on another day – could easily have had as many as five, with unfortunate interruptions and happy saves and deviations clearing him out of the way.
Fabio de Lima led the second ten minutes, securing the crucial three points that would get the United Arab Emirates’ campaign back on track. It was an easy street in injury time as Mabkhout and De Lima both doubled their scores and the Malaysians fell apart. They are now in second place behind the leaders Vietnam. Group G’s rivals Indonesia and Thailand drew 2-2 at the final whistle, in a result that neither team helped. There were a few frustrated faces full time, but a four-goal swing makes the UAE goal difference look much healthier, and a trip to Qatar is a much more realistic proposition. Elsewhere, India’s hopes were dashed when they lost 1-0 to Qatar. Abdulaziz Hatem scored the only goal. It has always been an uphill task for the ‘home team’ as Rahul Bheke was sent to India after only 17 minutes in Doha.