Manama: Iraq and Saudi Arabia, two of the most heavyweight teams in the 21st Gulf Cup in terms of past exploits, will clash in Sunday’s feature game (8.15pm kick-off UAE time).
Clubbed in Group B, Iraq have joined the fray at the back of an impressive runners-up finish in the West Asian Championships in Kuwait last month and will be looking to end their drought in this regional showpiece — having last won the Gulf Cup in 1988. They also enjoy the highest rank of 92 on the Fifa rankings out of eight participating teams.
Saudi Arabia, three-time winners of the event, will be pinning a lot of hope on the tactical nous of high-profile coach Frank Rijkaard of the Netherlands. Following a dismal showing in the West Asian Championship, where they won just one of their three group matches and failed to qualify for the knockout stages, they will certainly look to score some brownie points by lifting the trophy here.
Rijkaard will undoubtedly set a high standard for his men, which include the highly talented Nasser Al Shamrani, Hamad Al Hamad, Taisir Al Jasem, Saud Kariri and Ahmad Otaif, among others.
Iraq, now under new coach Hakim Shakir, are known for their resilience and captured the imagination of football fans of the continent when they won the Asian Cup in 2007 at the height of political strife, beating the Saudis in the final.
Former Ballon d’Or nominee Younis Mahmoud is the captain of this team. The first match of the day (5.15pm kick-off) will see reigning champions Kuwait getting down to their title defence against Yemen. They are also the most successful side in the history of the competition, having captured the winner’s trophy an impressive 10 times.
Kuwait’s Serbian head coach Goran Tufegdzic named his squad last week, which will be spearheaded by the likes of midfielders Khalid Al Qah’tani, Fahad Al Ansari and Fahad Al Enezi, with strikers Bader Al Mutawa and Abdul Rahman Al Shameri eager to get on the scoresheet.