Shortly after Syria’s impressive victory over Iraq, and following two action-packed weeks of football, the curtain fell on the West Asian Football Federation Championship on Thursday evening.
Held in Kuwait, the tournament provided fans in attendance with numerous high-quality duels as well as a fair share of shock results. When all was said and done, it was the Syrians who hoisted the prestigious trophy for the first time in their history.
FIFA.com looks back at the highlights of the seventh edition of the WAFF Championship, and turns the spotlight on some of the teams that made their mark.
Despite the difficult situation in which Syria currently finds itself, the country’s national team had fans on the edge of their seats throughout the competition. After obtaining a deserved share of the spoils with Iraq during their opening match, the Red Eagles came from behind to defeat Jordan and finish top of Group C. At the semi-final stage, they needed a penalty shoot-out to overcome Bahrain and meet their Iraqi neighbours again in the final. It was Syria who emerged victorious from the regional clash, winning the match 1-0 courtesy of a second-half goal from Ahmad Al-Salih.
Hosam Al-Sayed’s charges were helped by the form of forward Ahmad Al-Douny, who scored four times at the event, including all of his nation’s goals during the group stage. The clinical finisher also found the net in the semi-final, a match decided by a memorable penalty shoot-out in which Syrian goalkeeper Mosab Balhous saved three spot kicks.
Iraq competed in Kuwait under the command of Hakim Shaker, coach of the country’s U-19 side and the architect of their qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. Despite the absence of numerous first-team players who were not released by their clubs, the Lions of Mesopotamia finished second on goal difference in Group C, behind Syria. They subsequently defeated Oman 2-0 in the semi-final, before losing out to the Syrians in the final.
Several Iraqi players distinguished themselves at the WAFF Championship, including Hammadi Ahmed, scorer of the crucial winning goal during a recent 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifier against Jordan, striking partner Amjad Radhi and midfielder Ahmed Yasin.
Some of the countries indulged in some significant squad reshuffling, and this enabled a handful of previously unheralded talents to emerge. Oman surprised many by reaching the semi-finals, after pipping Kuwait to top spot in Group A on goal difference. The Red Warriors were then eliminated by Iraq in the following round, but consoled their supporters somewhat by beating Bahrain to secure third place.
As for the Bahrainis, Argentinian coach Gabriel Calderon will be pleased with the fourth-placed finish achieved by his players, especially after they comfortably won Group B and only lost out to eventual winners Syria in the semi-finals. His side can now look forward with confidence to the Gulf Cup of Nations at the turn of the year.
Palestine, whose squad boasted numerous players plying their trade in foreign leagues, such as Charleroi’s Omar Jarun, attained their maiden victory at the event by seeing off Lebanon in Group A.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, gave a chance to several youngsters who will doubtless form the nucleus of the national team in the near future. One in particular, Abdullah Otayf, who plays his football in Portugal, put in some notable displays, as did young Iranian Omid Nazari, who is presently based in Sweden.
Despite enjoying home advantage, Kuwait will likely wish to forget their contribution to this year’s WAFF Championship. Although they managed to collect six points in Group A, Al Azraq failed to advance to the knockout stages, due to Iraq claiming the slot reserved for the second-placed team with the best record. After a tight 2-1 win over Palestine, the Kuwaitis suffered a shock 2-0 loss to Oman, and although they bounced back to beat Lebanon, it was not enough to book a berth in the last four.
Lebanese supporters had high hopes of their heroes beforehand, and they were in triumphant mood following the Cedars’ opening success over Oman. However, two subsequent reverses at the hands of Palestine and Kuwait put paid to their chances of advancing further in the competition.
Yemen lost all three of their Group B encounters to finish bottom of the section. Similarly, Jordan were forced to prop up Group C after two defeats from as many matches. These results will be doubly disappointing for the Arab kingdom, given that coach Adnan Hamed had made it clear that the trophy was in his sights.
The star players
Before the WAFF Championship kicked off, few football fans in Asia had heard of Syria’s Ahmad Al-Douny, who represents Baniyas-based Al Misfat. The 23-year-old forward did not let his lack of big-name status bother him, however, finding the net on four occasions, a total that saw him finish as the tournament’s joint top goalscorer. Sharing the Syrian’s limelight was Omani striker Qasim Said, whose four goals propelled his country to an unexpected third place.
Other players that did their reputations no harm were Bahraini attacker Jaycee Okwunwanne, who confirmed his growing influence by netting twice, and Kuwait’s Youssef Nasser, who also nabbed two goals, which represented half of the total number of goals scored by the host nation.
What they said
“We performed extremely well despite having a lot of new and young players in our side. We were able to use that to our advantage in the end, thanks to Hosam Al-Sayed’s know-how. This trophy represents so much for Syrian football,” Syrian midfielder Hamdy Al-Masry, named Player of the Tournament.
200 – Not only did the goal scored by Ahmad Al-Salih enable Syria to hold aloft the trophy, it was also the 200th in the history of the WAFF Championship. The 23-year-old defender netted by getting his right boot on the end of a corner from substitute Hamid Mido.