Former champions Saudi Arabia kept their 21st Gulf Cup semifinal hopes alive when they scored a comfortable 2-0 win over Yemen at the Khalifa Sports City in Isa Town, last night.
In a must-win encounter, the Saudi team went into the attack right for the start and had the Yemen defense under constant pressure. After a couple of misses the Saudis finally broke open the rival defense after 33 minutes when striker Yasser Al-Qahtani headed home a cross from the left flank, inside the six-yard area, which gave rival goalkeeper Saoud Al Sawadi no chance.
Yemen tried to make a match of it in the second half and made inroads into the Saudi territory and had the rival defense under pressure. However, the Saudis kept up the pressure and their efforts finally bore fruit when they made the issue safe four minutes before time.
Yayah Alshiri, who had a fine match, covered a lot of from the right cut through down the middle, which caught the Yemini defense on the wrong foot, and let fly a left-footed stinger from the top of the box which was parried by rival goalkeeper. Fahad Al-Muwallad, who was lurking around the penalty area made no mistake. The stadium erupted as the Saudi fans went into ecstasy as they watched their team victorious after a long time under Dutch coach Frank Rijkaard.
However, the Saudis will have to put up a much better display when they take on Gulf Cup holders Kuwait, in their final fixture on Saturday, for a place in the semis. The other match will be between Yemen and Iraq.
Earlier, Iraq booked their seats in the semifinals with a hard-earned 1-0 victory over Kuwait.
Hammadi Ahmed was assisted by Kuwait goalkeeper Nawaf Al Khaldi in tapping in the decisive goal following a mad scramble on the goal line in the 29th minute of the match.
The result made it two wins from as many games for the Iraqis, who march on to the round of four with six points and one match still to play in Group ‘B’.
Inspirational captain Younes Mansour had a big role to play in Iraq’s opening goal. Mansour brilliantly collected a long pass from near midfield on the left of the area and then sent in a dangerous low cross in the face of goal.
The ball rebounded off a Kuwaiti defender who failed to make a clearance, causing a mad scramble for possession. Iraq’s Ahmed appeared to just barely tap the ball at the same time as Kuwait’s Al Khaldi reached out and touched it resulting in the match’s lone goal.
Both teams had chances to score over the remainder of the hotly contested match but could not find the finishing touch.
Kuwait pressed hard to find an equalizer and their best chance came just four minutes from full time Yousef Nasser Al Salman hit a powerful shot from nearly 30 yards out that bounced off the crossbar and went out of bounds.
Teammate Fahad Al Ansari also had a good chance from long-range earlier in the second half at the hour mark, but his attempt was parlayed to safety by in-form Iraq goalkeeper Noor Sabri, who claimed his second clean sheet in a row.
Kuwait head coach Goran Tufegdzic admitted that his team wasn’t at its very best in their 0-1 loss to Iraq.
The Serbian vowed to do better against Saudi Arabia in their must-win contest on Saturday, when they will be playing to keep their title defense alive and earn a berth in the tournament’s semifinals.
“Our team made some mistakes, especially with the second ball,” Tufegdzic said in his post-match Press conference.
“We gave the Iraqi team too much space today; we must be more aggressive in defense.
“We will try to fix these mistakes over the next two days and we will try to play against Saudi Arabia with a better match.”