After a 12-year wait, Kuwait finally regained the Gulf Cup after seeing off Saudi Arabia in Sunday night’s decider in Yemen. Walid Ali Jumah’s extra-time strike was the difference between the teams as Kuwait took the title for a record tenth time. FIFA.com looks back at the most significant events of the tournament.
A new era
When Kuwait won the 1998 Gulf Cup in Bahrain, their ninth triumph in the competition, they can scarcely have imagined it would be another 12 years before they tasted success again. But so it proved for Al Azraq (The Blues) who, having missed out on qualification for that year’s FIFA World Cup™ in France, began a long and painful spell in Asia’s footballing wilderness.
Despite numerous attempts to regain their place among the continent’s elite, it is only in recent years that the team’s fortunes have begun to change. Following their latest squad rejuvenation, Kuwait reached the semi-finals of last year’s Gulf Cup in Oman, an achievement they were determined to emulate this time around in Yemen.
The signs were promising coming into the tournament, especially after winning October’s West Asian Cup in Oman at the expense of a powerful Iran side. On arriving in Yemen last month, Goran Tufegdzic’s side continued their impressive form with a draw against Saudi Arabia and wins over the hosts and Qatar to book their place in the last-four.
Waiting for them in semis, however, were reigning Asian champions Iraq. After a titanic struggle the teams were still tied 2-2 at the end of extra time, but the Kuwaitis would not be denied a place in the final after holding their nerve to win the penalty shoot-out 5-4.
In the deciding game, Al Azraq renewed acquaintances with Saudi Arabia and it proved just as tight as their earlier group encounter. It was not until the fourth minute of extra time that deadlock was broken, midfielder Waleed Ali Jumah netting the winner to hand Kuwait a much coveted tenth title.
Asian Cup preparation
With little more than a month until the start of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, the tournament in Yemen afforded many of the participants a final opportunity to fine tune their sides for January’s showdown in Qatar.
Despite the importance of the Gulf Cup, Saudi Arabian coach Jose Peseiro opted to bring a new-look squad to Yemen, blooding several new faces alongside a small number of experienced stars. After a second-place finish, the tactic almost paid off for the Portuguese tactician, who could well keep the backbone of the squad intact for Qatar. For Saudi’s disappointed fans, however, it was another painful denouement to a Gulf Cup after having lost to Oman in the final of the previous edition.
UAE were also missing a number of key players, including members of the Olympic squad who were battling their way to a silver medal at the Asian Games, and several Al Wahda players who are preparing for FIFA Club World Cup duty on home soil.
For their part, Iraq and Qatar were hoping for morale boosting performances ahead of the Asian Cup, at which the latter will shoulder the responsibility that comes with being hosts, and the former that of being defending champions. Bahrain, meanwhile, had good reason to be confident, having been on the brink of qualifying for the last two FIFA World Cups.
As it transpired, a full-strength Iraq fared best of the three, although they could not hide their disappointment after the penalty shoot-out defeat in the semis that left them still seeking their first Gulf Cup title since 1988.
After failing to progress beyond the group stage in Yemen, Qatar and Bahrain have considerable work to do if their porous defences and profligate forward lines are to turn things around come January.
Misfiring hosts and holders
Perhaps the most disappointing performance of all came from reigning champions Oman. With virtually the same squad that won in 2009 – Wigan Athletic keeper Ali Al-Habsi being the notable absentee – and veteran Frenchman Claude Le Roy on the tiller, Oman confounded the experts by managing just one goal in the course of three successive draws to exit after the first round.
Hosts Yemen were another side who failed to live up to pre-tournament expectations. Despite lengthy preparations and vociferous home support, they proved no match for their group rivals, who handed them three straight defeats.
After taking the honours in Yemen, Kuwaiti players unsurprisingly dominated the individual awards. Top scorer with three goals was striker Bader Al Mutawa, while team captain Nawaf Al-Khalidi was named best goalkeeper. Last and by no means least was livewire winger Fahad Al-Enezi, who was voted player of the tournament after a string of fine performances that reportedly attracted the attention of several European clubs.