Asian Cup hosts UAE pulled off a titanic upset as they sent defending champions Australia crashing out in the quarter-finals on Friday. Ali Mabkhout poached a 1-0 win for UAE over Australia to set up a semi-final against Qatar.
Milos Degenek’s defensive mistake allowed UAE sharpshooter Mabkhout to pounce for a win that was greeted by joyous drumming and a sea of smartphone torches at a packed Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
Japan and Iran, with seven Asian Cup titles between them, will play the other semi as the 24-team continental showpiece nears its final in Abu Dhabi on February 1.
Graham Arnold’s Australia will feel aggrieved by their defeat after having the best of it against UAE, only to be undone by a single defensive error on 68 minutes.
Degenek, who this week signed for Saudi giants Al Hilal, rolled a casual ball to Ryan but Mabkhout nipped in and rounded the ‘keeper before scoring into an empty net.
In Al Ain, Trent Sainsbury flashed a header over as Australia proved an early threat but UAE were also looking sharper than their previous games.
Mabkhout nearly connected with a header with the goal at his mercy, and Ismail Al-Hammadi forced a reaction save from Mat Ryan when one-on-one with the Brighton goalkeeper.
Apostolos Giannou saw a shot palmed away as Australia finished the first half strongly, but Mabkhout was inches away when his header just cleared the bar.
The second half was one-way traffic as Degenek and Jackson Irvine went close with headers, and Giannou had the ball in the net but the goal was chalked off for offside.
All Australia needed was a goal and there was disbelief when it went the other way as Mabkhout, a peripheral figure for most of the half, pounced on Degenek’s misplaced back pass.
Mabkhout’s ninth Asian Cup goal put him joint third in the all-time top-scorers list, alongside Japan’s Naohiro Takahara and behind only South Korea’s Lee Dong-gook with 10 and Iranian legend Ali Daei’s 14.