Stymied UAE face tough challenge at Gulf Cup after draw with Oman

Omani goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi in excellent form as Gulf Cup holders left frustrated after opening match.

Emirati footballer Omar Abdulrahman, right, is tackled by Oman's Eid Mohammed Al Farsi during their Gulf Cup of Nations match at the Prince Faisal bin Fahad Stadium in Riyadh on November 14, 2014. Karim Sahib / AFP
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On the eve of his Gulf Cup of Nations opener against the UAE, the Oman coach Paul Le Guen had talked about avenging their 2-0 loss to Bahrain in the most recent tournament, a result that had sent his team home early.

“It is time for revenge,” the Frenchman said.

A goalless draw was probably not on his mind when he said that, but Le Guen might just take it, because the result is probably a lot more difficult to accept for the UAE than his own.

It might have even put a small dent in the UAE’s hopes of defending their title.

With Kuwait and Iraq up next, Mahdi Ali’s men have a big job ahead of them and will need to lift their performance a few notches.

on Friday night, they were not at their best. The UAE were far from fluent and struggled to keep possession. The passing was a bit awry and that allowed the Omanis to dictate play.

Le Guen’s men were a much more organised than the UAE, looked crisp relaying the ball and hogged as much as 60 per cent of possession in the first 45 minutes.

The absence of Emad Al Hosni from the tournament through injury, though, meant that they did not have someone to take advantage of that superior possession.

The toughest test for the UAE goalkeeper came through one of his own defenders – in the fifth minute, when Mohaned Salem almost deflected a free kick into his own goal.

Fortunately, Ali Kasheif was able to leap high to tip the ball over the crossbar.

Oman had another great chance in the 31st minute after a good run down the left by Qasim Said, but Mohammed Al Siyabi blasted the ball over from a couple of metres out.

Ali Al Habsi, the Omani goalkeeper, had a tougher time at the other end but the former Wigan Athletic standout, now on loan at Brighton and Hove Albion, kept frustrating the Emiratis.

First, he dived low to his left to keep a blistering Ismail Al Hammadi volley out in the 18th minute.

In the 34th minute, he was flying to his other side to punch away Ahmed Khalil’s curling free kick.

Frustrated, the Emiratis tried to innovate. Al Hammadi attempted to chip the ball over the keeper, who had charged out of the box, in the 37th minute, but his shot sailed just wide.

Khalil came over to provide a sympathetic hug to his teammate, but he was himself left in disbelief just a minute later when his attempt to curl the ball away from Al Habsi and into the far corner just missed the target.

The Omani keeper’s brilliance continued into the second half as he stretched to palm over an Al Hammadi attempt in the 46th minute and then dived in front to keep out another Khalil free kick in the 67th minute.

The UAE kept trying, but they just could not find a way past Al Habsi and had to eventually settle for a draw, the third in three games of this Gulf Cup.

Kuwait 1 Iraq 0

Kuwait’s Fahad Al Enezi gave the fans in Riyadh something to cheer last night after 180 minutes of largely fruitless football. His strike, a curling effort from 18 yards that just eluded Jalal Hassan Hachim’s grasp, in the second minute of second-half stoppage time gave Kuwait a 1-0 victory over Iraq.

The teams cancelled each other out for large periods of a physical game at the Prince Faisal bin Fahad Stadium in the Saudi Arabian capital, which saw six players booked. Jorvan Vieira’s Kuwait side face the UAE next on Monday before Iraq take on Oman.

It could have been different for Iraq, who thought they had scored in the first half, but goal-line technology showed that a Kuwaiti defender cleared the ball off the line amid appeals he made contact with his hand. But the referee was correct in allowing play to continue before Al Enezi struck – after receiving the ball from a teammate who appeared to be offside – to send Kuwait top of Group B.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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