After a morale boosting victory over Kuwait, Oman will be hoping to defeat Saudi Arabia in their last Group A match to seal a semifinal berth in the ongoing Gulf Cup in Kuwait on Thursday.
Oman began their campaign in the 23rd edition of the championship with a solitary goal defeat to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but bounced back with a 1-0 victory over record ten-time champions Kuwait on Monday night.
Buoyed by that victory, the 2009 title winners are sounding positive and looking forward to the Saudi Arabia tie with Oman’s coach Pim Verbeek saying they are completely focussed on the all-important match.
Oman are currently in third place in the group with three points behind leaders Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of whom have four points each.
An outright victory on Thursday will ensure Oman’s entry into the semifinals but in the event of draw against the Saudis, the Omanis' fortunes will depend on the outcome of Thursday’s other match between the UAE and Kuwait.
Both the matches are scheduled to start at 7.30 pm Oman time with Oman facing Saudi Arabia at Al Kuwait Sports Club Stadium and the UAE taking on Kuwait at Jaber International Stadium.
Aim to qualify
Oman's coach Pim Vebeeek addresses the media on the eve of their crucial Group A match of the Gulf Cup in Kuwait on Wednesday. Photo - ISMAIL AL FARSI / Times of Oman
A confident sounding Oman coach Pim Verbeek said ‘one goal in tomorrow’s match is enough to qualify’.
Speaking at the match-eve press conference on Wednesday, the Dutchman said: “It’s not easy to score goals in a tournament like Gulf Cup. All the teams are organised. But one goal in tomorrow’s game is enough to qualify.”
Speaking about the Saudi team's standard, he said: “We are not focussed on Saudi Arabia team. Our focus is on our team and our potential.”
Verbeek also said he has faith in his players who are not under any pressure.
“I do not think there is a lot of pressure on our team. Our goal is to win the match to ensure that we qualify for the semifinals. The Saudi team is a talented young team, but I have faith in our players and we will do our best in this match.”
The Dutch coach had started with the same eleven in the last two games and is likely to do the same against the Saudis.
In all probability, Verbeek is also likely to stick to the 4-2-3-1 formation, which he employed in the previous matches, with Ali Al Busaidi, Mohammed Al Musallami, Fahmy Al Said and Saad Suhail manning the defence in front of custodian Fayeez Al Rusheidi, who was outstanding in Oman’s victory over Kuwait.
Khalid Al Hajri will be operating as the lone striker in front of the attacking trio of Raed Ibrahim, Mohsin Johar and Jameel Al Yahmadi, while captain Ahmed Mubarak ‘Kanu’ and Hareb Al Saadi will take on the role of holding midfielders.
But it remains to be seen if star striker Abdulaziz Al Muqbali will have a role to play as Verbeek has used the Suwaiq Club frontman as a substitute towards the end of their match against the UAE and then completely ignored him during Kuwait match.
Meanwhile, experienced defender Mohammed Al Musallami said Oman team are determined to win the match.
While urging the fans stand behind the team, he said: “We have proved that we can play well against strong teams. We are not under any pressure.”
“Tomorrow’s match is not going to be easy. But we are determined to win the match,” he added.
FIFA’s advice to OFA
Meanwhile, world football governing body FIFA has advised Oman Football Association (OFA) to approach the technical committee of the Gulf Cup tournament regarding their complaint over UAE fielding an ineligible player in their Group A opener.
n the match, played on December 22 and which the Sultanate’s squad lost by a 1-0 margin, the UAE fielded defender Mohammed Ahmed towards the end of the match.
Mohammed Ahmed is reported to have picked up a red card in an international friendly against Uzbekistan in November, making him ineligible to play in an official friendly match.
After the match, the OFA lodged an official protest with the Gulf Cup technical committee. The protest was however rejected on the grounds it was not made within in a stipulated time.
Following that the OFA decided to approach FIFA, which in turn asked the Sultanate’s football body to get back to the Gulf Cup technical committee.
The Gulf Cup tournament is not included in the FIFA calendar. But according to some reports, the matches are given ‘friendly’ status and the points taken into consideration for FIFA rankings.
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