Defending champions Oman played out a goalless draw with Bahrain in a Gulf Cup Group B match, which came to life only in the second half.
At the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium yesterday, both the sides started on a cautious note and there was little to separate them at the final whistle. Oman had the better of chances in the first half, but Bahrain will feel they should have walked away with three points as they had more than few opportunities in the end to grab a winner.
Oman will be indebted to goalkeeper Faiz al-Rusheidi, whose double save in the 74th minute denied Bahrain a winning start.
“If you can’t win, do not lose,” said Oman coach Erwin Koeman, heaving a sigh of relief.
While Oman were fancied to win the contest, Bahrain’s recent record suggested they would give a tough fight. Helio Sousa’s side is currently second in the World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers in Group C, behind leaders Iraq and ahead of Asian powerhouse Iran. They are also the reigning WAFF Cup champions but are yet to taste the Gulf Cup glory.
Oman too are having a great run in the qualifiers, lying second in Group E to Qatar. In fact, Koeman’s charges have only lost once — a 2-1 defeat against Qatar in the qualifiers – since they were knocked out of the Asian Cup in last 16 in January.
Koeman since taking over from fellow Dutchman Pim Verbeek has instilled the confidence in his side, which was on display in the early stages of the match yesterday. They were also boosted by sizeable Omani fans in the stands, including 100 students who were specially flown in to Doha to support their side.
While Bahrain dominated the possession, only Oman could create any goal-scoring opportunity in the first half, albeit it was far and few though. The first real opening came in the 30th minute, when forward Al Mandhar al-Alawi got past Bahrain defender Sayed Mahdi and was through on goal. But the midfielder’s tame shot was easily saved by Sayed Shubbar.
In the beginning of the second half, both sides did not concede much in their half but with 15 minutes the game sprung into life.
The vital moment of the game was in the 74th minute when al-Rushaidi made a brilliant double save. The Oman goalkeeper dived to his right to block a fierce shot from Komail Hassan, before on rebound Mohamed Saad pounded the goal post again, only for al-Rushaidi to get up quickly and make another save.
On the counterattack, Muhsen could have put Oman ahead but hit straight to Shubbar. Oman had a huge slice of luck in the 76th minute when Saad’s header hit the top bar. There were couple of decent openings for Bahrain the dying minutes but they could not get past al-Rusheidi.
Sousa rued Bahrain’s missed opportunities, but was proud of his bunch of players, who he said were still developing. “It was a difficult game as we expected. We created spaces against a good team with good quality. We had our chances in the last 20 minutes. On another we could have scored two goals but I can’t fault in the efforts of my players,” he said.
“We are a young team compared to Oman and Qatar. We are still building the side and they can only improve from here. We started with a different line up today and they showed they can compete at the highest level. We won the WAFF title and we will try to win this too,” the Portuguese added.
Oman coach Koeman was not too pleased with the results, but conceded his team was lucky to escape with a draw.
“We had a decent game. Till the 75th minutes we had our chances but they also had two big chances. The draw is an OK result. Now we will focus on the next two matches,” the Dutchman said.
“But I am happy we did not concede any goal. They have some tall players, who troubled us with in the box. We had our chances too and we should have scored. We did not succeed in this,” he added.
Oman will next play Kuwait on Saturday, with Bahrain taking on Saudi Arabia on the same day.
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