Al Ain: Australia’s defence of their AFC Asian Cup title came to an end on Friday evening as Ali Mabkhout’s second half goal earned tournament hosts the United Arab Emirates a 1-0 win over the Socceroos and set up a semi-final meeting with Qatar.
Mabkhout took advantage of an under-hit back pass midway through the second half to steal in behind the Australian defence and round Maty Ryan to register the only strike of the game.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s side will now take on Qatar with a place in the final at stake as the hosts moved one step closer to emulating their run to the deciding game when the tournament was last held in the UAE in 1996.
With Tom Rogic unavailable due to suspension, Graham Arnold went for a tactical switch that saw Australia start with Jamie Maclaren and Apostolos Giannou paired together in attack while Robbie Kruse and Chris Ikonomidis patrolled the flanks.
There were changes, too, for the hosts. Ismaeil Mattar made his first start of the tournament alongside Mabkhout as Zaccheroni also introduced Walid Abbas, Fares Juma, Majed Hassan and Mohamed Ahmad as he made five changes to the side that eventually saw off Kyrgyz Republic.
Zaccheroni’s alterations were the first to take effect as the Emiratis started brightly. With less than a minute on the clock, Ismail Al Hammadi controlled Ali Hassan’s ball into the area before forcing Ryan to palm the ball clear.
In a lively opening, Trent Sainsbury sent his looping header of Ikonomidis’ corner over the bar as both teams started with few inhibitions.
Ryan was on hand once more to deny the hosts as the clock ticked towards the 20 minute mark when Al Hammadi, again, threatened after stepping inside Sainsbury to fire off an effort that the Socceroos keeper pushed away.
Neither side was prepared to sit back in an open and entertaining first half, with Australia taking advantage of the space in midfield to dominate for periods without finding a way through the well-drilled Emirati defence.
With five minutes left in the half the Socceroos did find a way through as Giannou was presented with the time to set his sight on goal, but Khalid Eisa swatted that shot clear. At the other end, Ali Mabkhout missed the chance of the half, heading over from close range.
Australia ramped up the pressure in the second period as Degenek and Jackson Irvine both saw their headers from corners miss the target and Ikonomidis dragged his shot just wide. Giannou then had the ball in the net following the introduction of Mathew Leckie for Maclaren, but his effort was ruled out for offside.
There was to be no such intervention, though in the 68th minute when Mabkhout put the UAE ahead with their first opening of the second period, the Al Jazira forward alert enough to step in to intercept Degenek’s backpass before rounding Ryan to score.
Australia grew increasingly desperate as the clock ticked down, with Arnold throwing on Awer Mabil and Andrew Nabbout in an attempt to claw back an equaliser but the Socceroos came up short to end their reign as Asian champions and allow the UAE advance.
Source : AFC Asian Football Confederation WEBSITE