Bangkok: Ali Mabkhout’s injury-time equaliser kept alive the United Arab Emirates’ slim hopes of a place at Russia 2018 after they salvaged a point with a 1-1 draw against Group B’s bottom side Thailand on Tuesday at Rajamangala Stadium.
The Emiratis had begun the tie seven points behind Saudi Arabia and Australia, who occupy second and third, and needed at a minimum a draw from the clash in Southeast Asia to keep them in with at least a mathematical chance of third place and a play-off spot with two games remaining.
Already eliminated from the World Cup finals, having chalked up just the single point from seven games, hosts Thailand were absent several key starters and a goalless first-half saw the visitors enjoy the lion’s share of possession but unable to create much in the way of clear-cut chances with the home side similarly struggling in attack.
It took until 64 minutes for the first clear opening when Ahmed Khalil fired in a free-kick which needed a smart save from Kawin Thamsatchanan in the Thailand goal. But just five minutes later, Mongkol Tossakrai turned up the volume in Bangkok when UAE goalkeeper Majed Naser fumbled Perapat Notechaiya’s low cross from the left and the forward stabbed home.
As the game entered added time and Thailand began to believe they would secure their first ever victory in the final round of World Cup qualifying they were hit by a sucker-punch as Tariq Ahmed’s long pass reached Ismaeil Matar and he found Mabkhout in the area to fire home.