UAE goes through; Bahrain snatches a spot in a Bollywood Drama

The final round of the group stage has kicked off with Group A - as the hosts, the UAE, Bahrain, Thailand and India - all fought for a spot in the knockout stage. 

The Emirates hosted the War Elephant, Thailand, at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al-Ain, with almost a full stadium - a rare view in the tournament so far.

The hosts opened strong and have found the net after only seven minutes through a header of Ali Mabkhout. While it looked as it is going to be a humiliating day for the Thais, they managed to climb up and get the game back. 

Thitipan Puangchan has taken advantage of huge chaos in Khalid Eissa’s box to equalise the score in a crucial timing - three minutes from halftime. On the other game, Bahrain against India, the result in half time was 0:0. In this situation, Thailand was going through to the knockouts together with India and the UAE, while Bahrain would have finished last. 

The second halves of both games continued in the same way they ended, but then Bahrain managed to get a dramatic penalty, after a foul committed on Hamed Al-Shamsan on the 89th minute. 

Jamal Rashed scored from the spot kick, and Bahrain won the match and the group’s third place (due to their inner table with Thailand), as Thailand kept the draw with the UAE until the final whistle. India, despite a positive performance overall with a victory over Thailand and respectable draw with the UAE, is going home.

Bahrain, great result and a knockout stage spot (Asian Football Confederation (AFC))

Bahrain, great result and a knockout stage spot (Asian Football Confederation (AFC))

Following their draw against Thailand, UAE has secured progression to the knockout stages in back-to-back Asian Cups – something the hosts have not managed since 1992 and 1996. Ali With his goal, Mabkhout has now scored seven goals at the Asian Cup since the start of the 2015 competition – more than any other player in that time.

Bahrain, on the same time, has made it through the group stages of the Asian Cup for the first time since the 2004 tournament, having been eliminated at this stage in their previous three appearances (2007, 2011 and 2015).  How big was that? It was Bahrain's first clean sheet in the Asian Cup since drawing 0-0 with Kuwait in the 1988 group stages, ending a run of 20 consecutive matches in which they had conceded.

Despite the home side qualifiying without a loss, fans in Abu Dhabi haven’t been celebrating that much, as the area around Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium and Zayed Sports City Stadium, remained quiet after the games. The fans must be waiting for bigger occasions, that will arrive for sure in the next phase.

As the knockout stage is getting closer with every day passing by, three Arab teams already guaranteed their spot in the bracket - the UAE and Jordan & Bahrain, as more teams from the Middle East, are likely to join tomorrow.