Basra: Oman would be eyeing their third Gulf Cup title when they take on hosts Iraq in the final at the Basra International Stadium on Thursday, the same fixture that started the tournament two weeks ago.
That match, in which both teams wanted to avoid defeat, ended goalless, but this time they both have the confidence and the results to go all out, promising a thriller.
Oman left it late to defeat reigning champions Bahrain 1-0 thanks to a Jameel Al Yahmadi wonder goal. The midfielder pounced on a loose ball to strike from 25 yards out into the top corner, sending Branko Ivankovic’s men into their second final in six years.
That goal, that result, and the team spirit that they have shown throughout the tournament would surely give them a truckload of belief in the final.
Former IR Iran and Persepolis head coach Ivankovic entered his third year in charge of Oman strongly. A convincing point picked up against the hosts to get the tournament underway was backed up by a hard-fought comeback win against Yemen 3-2 and a 2-1 triumph against Saudi Arabia seeing him join Iraq in the semi-finals.
The late goal against Bahrain means Oman are one game away from equalling Iraq, Qatar and Saudi Arabia on three titles.
Oman have been the most successful side of the past 15 years of the competition. The previous six editions of the Gulf Cup saw five different winners, with Oman the only team to win it twice, having never lifted the trophy prior to that. They also finished second in 2004 and 2007.
Ivankovic said advancing to the final was a morale booster for his side.
“I am satisfied by the performance and I am happy to face Iraq in the final.
“Although we have some injury concerns, we are very proud to have made the final and will give it our best,” said Ivankovic.
Iraq reached the final after defeating reigning AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar 2-1 in Monday’s semi-final. Ibrahim Bayesh’s close-range finish was cancelled out by Amro Sirag’s half-volley before Ayman Hussein bagged his third goal of the tournament to secure Iraq’s place in the final.
Having been among the most successful teams in the competition with triumphs in 1979, 1984 and 1988, Iraq’s best result of the 21st century is a final appearance in 2013 when they lost to the UAE 2-1, but with massive home support throughout this campaign, they would be hoping to better it.
In his first managerial job, Spanish head coach Jesus Casas, previously assistant to Luis Enrique at Spain, led Iraq to top Group A. A goalless draw against final opponents Oman was followed by a 2-0 win against Saudi Arabia before the top spot was sealed with a 5-0 defeat of Yemen to set up a semi-final clash against Qatar.
Iraq’s defensive resilience has been the key, with Qatar the only team to have scored against them.
But with players such as Al Yahmadi, who showed in the semifinal against Bahrain how to score unstoppable goals in their side, Oman would be hoping to go home with the trophy.