By Sahan Bidappa/Doha
Reigning champions Oman overcame a second half fight back from Kuwait for a 2-1 victory at the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup on Saturday.
In a thrilling end-to-end contest at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa stadium, it was a game of two halves as Oman dominated the first half before Kuwait threatened to stage a stunning recovery in the second.
Abdulaziz al-Muqbali converted two penalties as Oman went into the break with a two-goal cushion. Yousef Nasser pulled a goal back for Kuwait in the 78th minute, but the ten-time champions could not get past a determined Oman defence for an equaliser.
Oman now have four points from two matches, with Erwin Koeman’s side having drawn their opening match against Bahrain. Kuwait, who shocked Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, are on three points. Oman will meet Saudi Arabia in their final group match on Monday while Kuwait play Bahrain.
Koeman was a relieved man after the victory and was impressed with his team’s show.
"We played very well, especially in the first half and we created opportunities. We could have scored three goals at least, but in the second half we had difficulties,” the Dutchman said.
Both the teams enjoyed equal share of support as Oman and Kuwait fans filled the stadium to create a festive atmosphere. Kuwait, who were so impressive against Saudi, started on a false note, conceding two penalties due to defensive errors, which proved costly in the end.
Oman should have been a goal up in the 10th minute as an unmarked Muhsen al-Ghassani received a long ball from Mohsil al-Khaldi, but the striker failed to capitalize on the opening.
However, Kuwait weren’t lucky two minutes later as defender Meshari Alenezi brought down al-Ghassani in the box with a needless tackle. Qatari referee Khamis al-Marri failed to spot the foul, but with VAR being used in the tournament, Oman were given the penalty after a lengthy review.
From the spot kick, al-Maqbali sent the Kuwait goalkeeper Hameed Yousef the wrong way, as he slotted the ball into the left post. In the 28th minute, al-Ghassani had the opportunity to double Oman’s lead, following an error from Fahed al-Hajri, but the forward shot straight at Yousef.
Four minutes later, Oman fans were celebrating in the stands, while Kuwait supporters stood in disbelief after Yousef conceded a penalty. The Kuwaiti custodian rammed straight into al-Maqbali, who had charged into the box after receiving a long pass from Al Sulaiman al-Busaidi. Al-Maqbali once again chose to go left from the spot kick as a clueless Yousef stood still.
With their backs against the wall, Kuwait went all out for the equaliser and they nearly had one in the 40th minute. Ahmed al-Dhefiri and Nasser combined to hoodwink Omani defenders but the latter’s shot was easily saved by goalkeeper Faiz al-Rushaidi, who was once again excellent on the night. In the next minute, Nasser’s shot kissed the post after another link-up play with al-Dhefiri and Bader al-Mutawa.
Oman were always in the game though and they should have been three-up three minutes before break but al-Ghassani squandered two big opportunities.
Kuwait came back rejuvenated in the second half, while Oman’s energy dropped considerably, just as it did against Bahrain on Tuesday. With coach Thamer Enad pushing his players ahead, Kuwait found the space to attack.
But it wasn’t until the 78th minute that they were successful in scoring a goal as Nasser’s left footed shot from outside the box beat al-Rushaidi.
Oman fans had their hearts in the mouth when defender Abdul al-Mukhaini made two huge mistakes, but Kuwait players lacked sharpness on the night to make any use out it.
Kuwait coach Enad lamented the mistakes in the first half, which he said cost his team the match.
"It was a difficult game against a strong side. We played badly in the first half and the Omani team was able to take advantage of our mistakes and score two penalties," he said.
"But in the second half we made some adjustments and were better organised. We had some opportunities and scored a goal, but could not find the equaliser,” he added.
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