BAHRAIN were pushed to the brink of elimination from the 21st Gulf Cup last night, following a heart-breaking 1-2 defeat to the UAE in a drama-filled group 'A' game.
Majed Hassan scored the winning goal for the Emiratis just five minutes from full time after Abdulwahab Al Malood appeared to have saved the day for the Bahrainis with a second-half equaliser.
Ali Alhajri had earlier opened the scoring with a first-half strike for the UAE, who have punched their tickets to the tournament's semi-finals with yesterday's win.
The result left Bahrain at the bottom of the group 'A' standings with one point and just one match left to play, while the UAE remained in first place with a pristine record and six markers from two games.
Bahrain are now in need of a miracle in order to advance to the final four. They must beat Qatar in their final group game on Friday and hope that the UAE draws or defeats Oman.
Either way, their qualification is now out of their hands and they have only themselves to blame following last night's loss.
The Bahrainis squandered chance after chance in each half against the Emiratis, and it was a major gaffe five minutes before the break from the usually very dependable Abdulla Ismail Omar which led to Alhajri's opening strike.
Omar had looked to head the ball back to Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Mohammed Jaffar, but his poorly timed and weak pass left it right in the path of Alhajri who then charged at goal.
Abdulla Al Marzooqi caught up with him in the box and mounted a valiant sliding challenge against his rival, but Alhajri brilliantly outsmarted the towering Bahraini defender with a left-to-right dribble and then coolly slotted the ball home into the bottom-left corner of the net.
That was enough to give the UAE a one-goal lead heading into half-time.
In the second half, Bahrain pressed hard for an equaliser and were finally rewarded in the 75th minute. Al Malood made a brilliant solo run in the box and then slotted the ball home through the legs of UAE goalkeeper and captain Ali Hamid.
That revitalised the national team and they continued to look for the winner, but any celebrations were short lived after Hassan scored the UAE's second goal five minutes from full time.
Following a fine stop from Jaffar on a shot from the UAE's Ismail Mattar, Hassan latched onto the loose ball just inches off the goal line and sent it into the roof of the net for the winner.
Bahrain tried to salvage a draw with the little time they had remaining, but could not level the proceedings once more.
Earlier in the contest, the home side were left stunned by their own missed chances, as both Sami Al Hosani and Faouzi Aaish let a pair of sure-fire opportunities to take the lead in the first half go to waste.
In the 19th minute, Al Hosani pounced on a well-placed cross from teammate Sayed Dhiya Saeed but his ensuing header was well over the crossbar despite being left unmarked just a few yards from the goal.
Later, Aaish misfired on what was arguably the hosts' best chance to score. A perfect through-ball from near midfield by Mohammed Salmeen made it past a pair of UAE defenders and on to a sprinting Aaish on the left.
But the talented midfielder missed the mark with a left-footed shot that flew inches over the crossbar, much to the disappointment of the tens of thousands of home fans who flocked to the National Stadium in Riffa in support of the national team.
Striker Ismaeel Abdullatif had another two opportunities in the second half, both in the face of goal. His first attempt was blocked by UAE goalkeeper Hamid and then the second by defender Abdulaziz El Mazni.
Substitute Jaycee John then had an acrobatic flying kick from close range calmly collected by Hamid in the 70th minute, paving the way for the game's see-saw closing stages.