UAE start Asian Cup with Qatar win; more to come from Abdulrahman

As the UAE cruised to victory, the holes in the Qatari defences were punished by the pint-sized talisman

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Characterized by his loud and unflinching Afro, the 23-year-old attacking-midfielder from Gulf Pro League champions Al-Ain looks like he’d be at home on the end of your pencil. But at his quick-thinking best, the maestro is a delight to behold and many of his former team-mates with experience of playing in Europe gush about his talents.

Courted by several high-profile European clubs, key playmaker Omar Abdulrahman reached his ambitions to play in one of Europe’s top leagues before the AFC Asian Cup kicked-off.

There was apparently a firm offer of a loan move to Portuguese heavyweights Benfica, whilst Arsenal wanted bring the attacker to North London last year on trial. As a teenager, he spent time at Manchester City and impressed.

Indeed, anybody who saw the flamboyant performance in the AFC Champions League quarter-final win over Al-Ittihad – a tie captured by his audacious flick to set up one of the two first-leg goals -- can vouch for the wizardry in his left-foot.

With just two league appearances this season for Al-Ain – no appearance since November -- and having won the race to stay fit for the UAE’s first match, the rustiness, however, was evident.

Forced out of the game by some stringent marking from the Qataris, Abdulrahman was largely found on the periphery of play in the first half.

Left-footed, but deployed as an inverted winger with scope to utilise the whole of the pitch, the attacker found his paths blocked. When he did find the pocket of space to take possession, the double-marking of Qatar’s left-hand side was effective.

Abdulrahman would deliver an ambitious flick here, an intermittent combination there, while sauntering around the pitch to little effect. That lack of purpose with-and-without the ball will have been duly noted by the diaspora of European scouts in Australia for the tournament – he made just one tackle in the 90 minutes.

Knocked over relentlessly, the sturdy 23-year-old dusted himself off and was a thorn in Qatar’s side after the interval. As part of a small tactical shuffle, Omar was shuffled into the middle with the task of unsettling the haphazard defending from their regional rivals. He went on to complete 75% of his passes, a sign of his playing style to take risks and penetrate the defence from deep.

As the UAE cruised to victory, the holes in the Qatari defences were punished by the pint-sized talisman. In the final minutes, Abdulrahman was left unmarked as his side sparked a quick counterattack and his intelligent flick to send Mabkhout through on goal was a player in his prime.

The obvious concerns over his sharpness aside, Abdulrahman stuck to his task and helped the UAE to a dominant win to start the tournament on a high.

The first clash on Day Three of the AFC Asian Cup in Australia was settled by a myriad of errors from both goalkeepers and especially, some weak defending from Qatar.

But starting the game stronger, the Qataris found the route to goal by the 18th minute as Captain Khalfan Ibrahim opened the scoring with a sumptuous lob from the edge of the box after Emirati keeper Naser was left in no man’s land.

UAE striker Ahmed Khalil snatched his fourth goal in three games to reverse the scoreline at the beginning of the second period. Khalil’s team-mate Ali Mabkhout matched the striker’s brace in the second-half scoring in the 56th minute before his second late in the game.

Bahrain are the next opponents for the United Arab Emirates on January 15.

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