Tasty Last Four as Gulf Cup Reaches Climax

Tasty Last Four as Gulf Cup Reaches Climax
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Published December 31st, 2017 - 17:26 GMT via SyndiGate.info

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23rd Gulf Cup logo
23rd Gulf Cup logo

History will be made in Kuwait next week as the Gulf Cup reaches a fascinating conclusion.

Whether it’s a maiden title for Bahrain, a third trophy in 10 years for the UAE, a first triumph away from home to Oman or a return to glory for Iraq 30 years after their last Gulf Cup title, there will be a riveting subplot to next Tuesday’s final and something to write home about.

First, four teams will battle it out on Friday for a spot in the final. Oman face Bahrain in a repeat of the 2007 semifinal clash when the Omanis emerged on top to reach the final before eventually losing to hosts the UAE. Bahrain, on the other side, dream of a first appearance in the final, since the introduction of the new format in 2004. Their best finish, a runners-up spot in 2003, came in a round-robin tournament format, coincidentally in Kuwait.

With Qatar eliminated, and a potentially awkward encounter against the UAE in the semifinal avoided, three-time Gulf Cup winners Iraq take on the UAE in the second semifinal, a repeat of the 2013 final when the Whites earned their second title after defeating Iraq in extra time.

The Lions of Mesopotamia are yet to win the Gulf Cup following their return to the competition in 2004 after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime.

Saudi Arabia’s second-string side impressed but failed to make it out of the group and to the final four. The Green Falcons kicked off the tournament with a 2-1 victory over hosts Kuwait, followed by a goalless draw against pre-tournament favorites the UAE.

With four points to their name ahead of the final matchday, it was head-to-head against Oman for a place in the semifinal.

The Reds had lost 1-0 to the UAE and beat Kuwait by the same scoreline to collect three points. So, in the final match, a point would have been sufficient for the Saudis to progress.

Krunoslav Juricic’s men were unable to respond to Oman’s two second-half strikes and ended their campaign with a disappointing defeat. But there was an overall feeling of satisfaction with the performances of the young side, assembled by the Croatian coach to give opportunities to Saudi-born sons of expats as well as a few fringe players eager to prove their worthiness of inclusion in Juan Antonio Pizzi’s squad for the World Cup.

Kuwait looked rusty upon their return to international football after a two-year ban. The Blues’ one-point tally in the group was the worst result for a host nation since Yemen finished bottom of their group with no points on home soil in 2010.

Czech coach Miroslav Soukup took to Kuwait a squad comprised of locally based players. A mix of youngsters and veterans with prior experience of playing in neighboring Gulf leagues proved to be the dark horses of the tournament.

Arguably the biggest upset of the tournament, however, was the elimination of Qatar at the hands of Bahrain, whose impressive form was a pleasant surprise. Following the retirement of their golden generation that finished runners-up in the 2003 Gulf Cup and came within one match of reaching the World Cup in 2010, Bahrain slipped to mediocrity during the naturalizing campaign that brought the likes of Nigerian Jaycee John and Moroccan Fawzi Ayesh to the national team.

Bahrain held powerhouse Iraq to a 1-1 draw in the opening match before edging Yemen in the second match. In the final matchday, Qatar were the favorite to advance from Group B, but Soukup’s men fought out a 1-1 draw to knock the Maroons out and join Iraq in the semifinals.

Less surprising were Yemen’s struggles in the same group. The latest team to join the Gulf Cup, Yemen remain without a single win in their 24 matches in the competition since making their debut in 2003. They were never going to cope with their group opponents, and they ended their campaign with eight goals conceded and none scored, and with no points to their name. They have been the only disappointment of an otherwise excellent tournament so far with the promise of more drama to come.

Copyright: Arab News © 2017 All rights reserved.

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