MUSCAT // Nasser al Johar did it again - he skipped another press conference. And what's more, there was no sign of Hassan al Rahib or Nayef Hazaazi either. Al Johar, Saudi Arabia's incorrigible coach who keeps giving the media the slip, had promised to unveil two "exciting, young strikers" ahead of their semi-final clash against Kuwait at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex. But that did not happen.
His Brazilian assistant Luis Innara, said: "We still have a training session before the Kuwait match. And with all the players in the squad available, the line-up won't be decided until then." True. And with the form the Saudis are in, it would be hard to imagine a winning combination without their captain Yasser al Qahtani and Malik Moad - so dangerous in attack and both with two goals each from the three games.
"We are heading for another strong match and we do not consider Kuwait any weaker than the rest of the teams in the competition," Innara said. "Everyone's started to pick Saudi Arabia as the favourites, but I believe in the old adage you don't count your chicken before they hatch." But the Saudis have been impressive so far - even in their goalless draw against Qatar - before they went on a rampage in the next two games, drubbing Yemen 6-0 and tearing the UAE apart 3-0. So it comes has no surprise when the Kuwait coach Mohammed Ibrahim says they were up against a better team.
"It would take a very good performance and plenty of good fortune to beat this Saudi side," Ibrahim said. "But I am hopeful of an upset. "We never expected to come this far and who knows. My players can raise the bar on the night and the Saudis can have a poor game." Ibrahim did not rule out the possibility of the game veering towards penalities. "That is one of our options but a hard one because they have scored with their forwards, midfielders and the defenders," he said.
But he has reasons to believe his team can win, however hard it may be. "We have played to our strengths and have been quite successful," Ibrahim said. "The UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Iraq are by no means weak and we have conceded just one goal in the last game with Iraq. It has been a pretty decent run." The former Kuwait international has no injury problems in his squad and hopes to have his best line-up for the game.
He also feels it is an achievement for two homegrown coaches to come this far with one sure to make it to the final. "With all due respect to the Saudis, I hope it's Kuwait," he said. @Email:email@example.com