Kuwait City: Oman reached the final of the Gulf Cup for the fourth time in their history with a 1-0 win over Bahrain in the first semi-final in Kuwait’s Jaber International Stadium.
Pim Verbeek’s side needed a slice of luck to make it through — the only goal of the game was an own goal after 29 minutes from Mahdi Abdul Jabber — and they defended for their lives at times, but they held on after keeping a third clean sheet in four matches and will now contest Friday’s final in Kuwait City. They won the tournament for the first and only time in 2009 and this group of players now has a chance to emulate the golden generation of Ali Al-Habsi and Co.
Oman’s Ministry of Sports Affairs teamed up with the Majlis Al Shura and Oman’s air force to provide eight free flights so fans could watch the team in action and they were dancing in the stands at the final whistle, as the players celebrated with a picture of the Sultan of Oman.
Verbeek’s side dominated possession throughout the first half of the semi-final and came close to opening the scoring on multiple occasions. First, it was Mohsen Johar who fired just wide of the post with his left foot from the edge of the area.
Veteran Ahmed Mubarak was present in each of Oman’s past three appearances at the Gulf Cup final, lifting the trophy in 2009. Captaining the side this time around, he attempted to break the deadlock when he drilled his angled free-kick low and past the wall, but goalkeeper Sayed Alawi came to the rescue.
Finally, Bahrain buckled under the pressure, and it was their own man Mahdi Abdul Jabber who beat Alawi. Bahrain’s No. 9 attempted to clear Johar’s in-swinging corner kick at the near post, but his header went straight past his own goalkeeper to put Oman in the lead.
Former Australia manager Verbeek has built a solid defensive unit in Oman, and once they took the lead, his men retreated to defend their area and did so to perfection.
Bahrain took the initiative after the goal, but were unable to create any clear-cut chances in the remainder of the first half. Their best effort was a long-range shot from Dhia Saeed that sailed high above the Omani goal.
Midfielder Jamal Rashid had scored two of Bahrain’s three goals in the tournament prior to the Oman encounter, but an injury prevented him from featuring in the semifinal. In his absence, coach Miroslav Soukup played all his attacking cards after the restart as Bahrain desperately attempted to come back into the game.
Midfielder Ibrahim Habib was brought on at half-time to replace defender Ahmed Abdullah and his impact on the game was noticed instantly. Habib ran riot in the Omani defense and came within a whisker of scoring on two occasions. Goalkeeper Fayez Al Rashidi put in a man-of-the-match display as he saved wave after wave of Bahraini attack, his personal highlight a lightning quick reflex save to deny Habib’s header from six yards out.