Powerhouses Korea Republic and Australia bid adieu to the tournament in the process.
It was the day of the underdogs in the AFC Asian Cup, where Qatar and the UAE pulled off the unlikeliest of victories to proceed into the final four. In the first game, The Maroons shocked South Korea with a 0-1 win at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi, thanks to Abdelaziz Hatim’s stunner in the 78th minute. In what was a courageous showing, Qatar attained qualification for their first-ever AFC Asian Cup semi-finals.
After what was a relatively tame first half, with both teams creating few chances, the game came alive in the second period. Hwang Ui-jo had an ambitious shot on goal early on in the second half, which was saved well by Saad Al Sheeb. Lee Chung-yong later missed a glorious opportunity, when Kim Jin-su’s inviting cross was blazed over the bar with his mistimed attempt.
Son Heung-min was relatively inefficient, but received a chance in the 72nd minute, when his powerful shot was held by Sheeb. Korea’s misfortune continued, as Kim Jin-su’s free-kick from outside the box clipped off the post five minutes later. With the game threatening to move into extra-time, Qatar pounced after being quite disappointing in attack for most of the game.
Watch: Korea Republic 0-1 Qatar highlights
Akram Hassan Afif found Hatim outside the box, as the midfielder saw free space ahead of him. He positioned himself well, before taking a powerful low shot which went through a defender into the net. However, Korea Republic almost equalized a minute later. when Lee-yong’s cross was tipped into the net by Ui-Jo, who was unfortunately adjudged offside.
Qatar had another chance to double their lead, when Boualem Khoukhi attempted an acrobatic effort, but Kim Seung-gyu parried it out confidently. The Tigers of Asia attempted to get the equalizer to force extra-time, but never really tested Sheeb’s resolve after that.
The Maroons defended like their lives depended on it, keeping their fifth consecutive clean-sheet and maintaining their 100% defensive record. After pulling off the ultimate underdog story, they head into the semi-finals brimming with confidence, while favourites South Korea’s lacklustre nature sends them home.
The UAE pulled off an even bigger upset, knocking out defending champions Australia, with a 1-0 win at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain. In a game which was predominantly controlled by the Socceroos, a moment of good fortune was pounced upon by Ali Mabkhout in the 68th minute, which resulted in the winner for the hosts.
Definitely the weaker team on the day, The Whites managed to put on an immaculate defensive performance to keep the Aussies at bay. While the defending champions boasted of the lion’s share of possession, they barely created any noteworthy changes throughout the game. Despite having 22 shots on goal, only two were on target and both came in different phases of each half.
Apostolos Giannou and Robbie Kruse both had a few swipes at goal but were denied by the brilliance of Khalid Eisa. While the Socceroos kept on pegging forward in look for the goal, they even got the opener int eh 63rd minute when Giannou scored from Matthew Leckie’s flick-on. However, the substitute was ruled offside by the linesman, meaning the game stayed drawn heading into the final half an hour.
Watch: United Arab Emirates 1-0 Australia highlights
Just as Australia started showing signs of complacency, the UAE pounced upon the biggest chance they received all game. A horrible back-pass by defender Milos Deganek fell straight into the path of Mabkhout, who went past Matt Ryan to put his side into the lead. It seemed as if Lady Luck wanted The Whites to be victorious on the day.
While The Socceroos tried their best to equalize, they just couldn’t break through the UAE’s tough as nails defence on the day. The hosts somehow managed to keep them out after that fortunate goal and recorded a historic win, which guarantees them back-to-back semi-finals in the Asian Cup.
The UAE will now face West Asian rivals Qatar in the last four. In what is set to be a battle of heart against solidity, the game can expectedly be a tight encounter. With the UAE aiming for their first tournament final in more than twenty years and Qatar for their maiden one, both sides will put in their absolute best to take one step closer to making history.