Kuwait on the up and up
© AFP

Against considerable odds, the Kuwait senior national team are continuing to make progress on the global stage. The Persian Gulf outfit jumped nine places in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking to 118th spot, the second-biggest progression of any AFC nation this month.

Though they remain some way off matching their highest-ever position of 24th, achieved in December 1998, Kuwait have moved up the rankings for the second month in succession and put further distance between themselves and their worst ever standing of 128th - held in November 2008. Should they continue in this fashion then a spot in the top 100 should not be beyond them, a feat the country has not achieved since holding 89th place in August 2007.

What is more, all this comes in spite of a 1-0 home defeat by Oman in their opening qualifier for the AFC Asian Cup 2011, a setback which led to the resignation of coach Mohammed Ibrahim.

Starting afresh
Kuwait were already out of the running for a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ by mid-2008, thus dashing their followers' dreams of seeing their national side compete at football's top table for the first time since Spain 1982 - their only finals' appearance to date. Despite the disappointment, Ibrahim stayed in his post in order to begin preparing the team for the tasks ahead: the 2009 Gulf Cup and the start of qualifying for Qatar 2011.

This year's Gulf Cup took place in January, when Kuwait more than lived up to expectations by going all the way to the semi-finals. Their campaign included a 1-0 win over Bahrain, a 0-0 draw with eventual winners Oman and a 1-1 draw with reigning Asian champions Iraq. Nor did their 1-0 exit at the hands of Saudi Arabia dent then coach Ibrahim's pride at a job well done: "We came out of nowhere and we weren't expecting to get this far, so the overall verdict is satisfactory," he said at the time.

Kuwait subsequently played two friendly encounters at home with mixed results, following up a 2-0 win over Turkmenistan with a 3-2 defeat by Syria. The Kuwaiti forward line was in particular evidence in these two matches, with Hamad Al Enazi, Fahad Al Rashidi and Badr Al Mutawa all showing plenty of quality in the attacking third.

Yet they were unable to build on these promising displays in the aforementioned Asian Cup qualifying opener against Group B rivals Oman, the defeat that caused Ibrahim to step down. There are, however, plenty of points still to play in a group which Kuwait also share with Australia, who they play next on 5 March, and Indonesia, a team they will face twice in November this year.

Given that the top two sides in the section qualify for the continental showpiece in 2011, and after their impressive recent progress in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, Kuwaiti fans will see no reason why their side cannot overcome their shaky start and make it all the way to Qatar.