Saudi Arabia resurrected their 24th Arabian Gulf Cup campaign with a dominating 2-0 win over Bahrain at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa stadium on Saturday.
The Saudis were under pressure coming into the match, having been shocked by Kuwait in the opener, but put on an assured display to calm the nerves in the camp.
Goals from Abdullah al-Hamdan and Mohamed al-Khabrani in each half gave Herve Renard’s side three points, and now would need a victory against defending champions Oman in the final Group B game tomorrow to book their place in the semi-final. For Bahrain, who are in fourth position in the group with just one point, courtesy their drawn game against Oman, they need to beat Kuwait tomorrow and also hope Saudi will lose to Oman.
Defending champions Oman are top of Group B with four points, while Kuwait sit in second place with three points and a +1 goal difference.
Renard had blamed Saudi’s defeat to Kuwait due to lack of preparation, but last night his side looked ready and were in total command against Bahrain. They controlled the possession from the beginning and should have scored more.
In total, Saudi had 15 shots to Bahrain’s 10, but the former had six on target while the latter had only three, that too in the final stages of the match.
With a 3-1 loss to Bahrain affecting their goal difference, Renard played three strikers upfront in the aim of reducing the deficit. While they enjoyed plenty of spaces in the wide areas, Bahrain with four defenders on the back and a defensive midfielder playing in a central role, were tough to break down.
Al-Khabrani thought he had put Saudi ahead in the 10th minute, when he bundled in from close range past Bahrain’s goalkeeper Waleed al-Hayam. But the defender was ruled to be off-side and the goal was disallowed.
Saudi continued to create many chances, but lacked the final touch. Bahrain, meanwhile, had an opening in the 25th minute but Thiago Augusto’s attempt was blocked by goalkeeper Fawaz al-Qarni brilliantly.
It needed a special strike from al-Hamdan to open Saudi’s account in the 29th minute. After receiving a ball from Salem al-Dawsari in the edge of the box, the 20-year-old Al Shabab striker turned swiftly and fired into the top corner.
There were two clear chances for Bahrain around the one-hour mark, which they spurned. Saudi, meanwhile, took their chances as they doubled the lead in 58th minute. Bahrain defenders could only watch as al-Khabrani headed in from a corner. Bahrain upped the ante in search of a goal or two, but there was no serious threat for Saudi’s defence to counter.
By Sahan Bidappa
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2021