Asian Cup Preview: Bahrain v UAE
Head-to-head: The two gulf countries have not met since 2013 where the United Arab Emirates won 2-1 on the way to their second Gulf Cup title. In their previous 2012 meeting UAE were convincing 6-2 winners.
The Game: The surprise package of the first round of group C was undoubtedly UAE. Omar Abdulrahman in particular caught the eye as an exciting player for the fans and his creativity coupled with the lively Emirati attackers surrounding him has shaped a team that is deadly in the final third. Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil have scored fourteen goals between them in their last seven games and it will take a good defensive setup to stop their scoring run.
The Emirati defence was hardly tested against the toothless Qatari attack so it will be interesting to see how they handle the dangerous Jaycee John Okwumwanne. Qatar failed to threaten UAE’s penalty box, an area Bahrain will be targeting. The way the Emirati defence deals with the threat will tell us a lot about how far they can go in this tournament.
Bahrain exceeded expectations against Iran. Their strength wasn't found in their attack or defence, but in their fighting spirit and determination to attack even when underdogs. Bahrain had Iran troubled at times and even had them on the back foot in the final moments of the game. It is important the UAE doesn't underestimate Bahrain, doing so could be fatal.
The United Arab Emirates have never won their opening two games at an AFC Asian Cup finals tournament and their matchup with Bahrain could be the perfect opportunity to break that duck.
There is no doubt the game will continue the trend we saw in the opening round of Group C. The fans were treated to open attacking football, a rare phenomenon these days.
Pairing up an exciting, attacking team in the UAE with a fearless Bahraini side who is not afraid to attack and have a go makes this a mouth-watering clash. Expect goals – Bahrain has failed to keep a clean sheet at the tournament since 1988 and the UAE scored four in their opening encounter.
The Big Issue: Can UAE repeat their dominance against what is a similar foe? Coming into the tournament Bahrain was seen as the weakest team in the group, but after the first round of games Qatar may have stolen that title from them. This means UAE face a team in a similar position, but with more of an edge. It will be fascinating to see if the Emirati can carry over their attacking fluency into a game against what is a similar, but more challenging opponent.
Game Breaker: If Bahrain don't shut down Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout then they will wreak havoc on goal. The game weighs on how well Bahrain can stop Abdulrahman’s creativity. If they can keep him quiet they may just have enough down the other end to cause an upset.
Prediction: UAE 2 – 1 Bahrain