Manama: Oman coach Paul Le Guen was left to defend his decision to substitute captain Fawzi Basheer after losing 2-1 to Qatar on Tuesday in a match they had otherwise dominated.
Basheer, who plays in the UAE Pro League with Al Dhafra, wasn’t even picked for the opening game with Bahrain, which ended goalless on Saturday. Then the Sultanate’s most experienced player was substituted midway through the second match against Qatar when 1-0 down against the run of play from a surprise Khalfan Ebrahim penalty on the hour.
Oman, who had wasted so many opportunities as well as having a goal disallowed and a penalty turned down, finally equalised from the spot 10 minutes later via Hussain Al Hadri. But Qatar’s Mohammad Al Sayed tapped in a cruel winner before the whistle.
Oman are not yet out of the competition but will have to rely on goal-difference and the results of other games even if they win their last match against the UAE on Friday. If they do get knocked out, as now expected, Le Guen’s decisions surrounding Basheer’s role in the team could come under increased scrutiny. The relationship between Le Guen and Basheer was apparently strained even before the tournament, according to the Muscat Daily, which reported a bust-up between the pair after a friendly with Togo on December 29. Rumours were so widespread that Oman Football Association (OFA) chairman Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi issued a denial.
“I don’t regret the substitution of Fawzi Basheer because after that we went on to equalise,” said Le Guen. “Every player played well, Fawzi played well and I didn’t want to have to change anything in our strategy because we had been playing so good. But we went a goal down and opted for three strikers and this created more chances for a big stretch of the second half.”
Le Guen added: “It’s unbelievable that we lost such a game. We were far better than Qatar and it’s a strange feeling because we deserved to win. I have my thoughts concerning the refereeing but it’s best I just shut up.
“We were unlucky but also not skillful enough in front of goal. We had so many opportunities and we have many regrets. There’s no miracle solution to our goal scoring problem. You cannot change players over night. But we’ve shown we can compete and this is proof that we’re still becoming a group.
“We will try to qualify and get a good recovery but it’s going to be tough.”