The Gulf Cup kicked off last week in Saudi Arabia with eight competing teams divided into two groups – the first consisting of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen, and Bahrain, with the second comprising Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, and Iraq.
The tournament opened with a Saudi-Qatar game that ended in a 1-1 draw, with six games of the first eight also ending in draws. Kuwait beat Iraq with a goal in the 90th minute, while Saudi Arabia beat Bahrain with a clean score of 3-0 in the second round.
Before the third round, which began Wednesday, eight games were held in which 12 goals were scored with an average of 1.5 goals per match. Most matches ended in a draw, which led to strong media criticism with many accusing tournament play of being marked by a low technical level in addition to a clear decline in viewership rates. The stands have appeared empty for most games, with some saying that the timing of the match is a factor for the low turnout. The larger teams’ concentration on entering the Asian Cup finals early next year has also been blamed. Critics pointed to a lack of quality marketing and the unfavourable weather conditions that strike Saudi Arabia at this time of year as additional factors.
Before the third round, seven goals were made in the first compared to the five goals scored in the second half, including two goals scored by Saudi Arabia against Bahrain. The referees gave out 34 yellow cards, an average of over four per game, but no players were shown the red card. The Kuwait-UAE match witnessed the highest number of goals in the round with a 2-2 final score, with the Iraq-Kuwait match the most tough with seven cards handed out to both teams.
Following the end of the second round, the Saudi team ranked first with four points, Qatar and Yemen both had two, and Bahrain came in last with only one point.
In the second group, the Kuwaiti team came in the lead with four points, and the UAE – the defending champions – ranked second with two. Oman came in third with the same number of points in light of the goal difference, and Iraq came in last with one point.
The most exciting match took place between UAE-Kuwait with three goals scored within four minutes during the first half of the game. The UAE scored one goal in the 18th minute, adding another in the 35th, with Kuwait scoring two successive goals during minutes 37 and 39. The score remained the same for the second half of the game, which ended in a draw.
The UAE shot the most during the match, making a total of 17 attempts, of which seven hit the goalpost with an accuracy rate of 41%. There were only seven Kuwaiti shots during the match, of which four hit the goalpost, with an accuracy rate of 57%. The Emirate team attacked the most in the game, launching 64 attacks compared to Kuwait’s 35. The UAE also had seven chances to score, most of which took place during the first half, while Kuwait had four chances and realised only one in the second half.
The Emirati team held possession for 58% of the match and passed 379 balls correctly amongst its team members with 87.3% accuracy. Kuwait passed 272 balls with 78.8% accuracy and registered no more than 60 passes for any given period of the game.
Emirati forward Ali Makhbout was the top scorers after landing two goals in Bahrain’s net during the game. He also made the most shots – a total of five, four of which hit the goalpost – and young star Omar Abdel Rahman or ‘Al-Amoodi’ shone throughout the match, registering an assist for the first goal and a second assist for the second.
The UAE goalkeeper allowed two consecutive goals through as a result of repeated errors on his part, making his successful saves only 50% of the time. He failed to block all crosses that made their way into the penalty area and thus earned a rate of 0% on that front.
The Saudi-Bahrain match witnessed the largest win margin with a final score of 3-0 Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia attacked their competitor 49 times compared to just 27 Bahraini counterattacks. The left Saudi front stood out, led by Salman Al-Faraj as well as Taiseer Al-Jassim and Salem Al-Dawsari, with the team shooting 13 goals versus a mere five shots made by Bahrain, one of which hit the goal posts in a clear reflection of Saudi’s weak defence.
But Bahrain’s defence was not in a particularly good state, evidenced by the final score. Two goals were a result of friendly fire out of a total of seven unrealised opportunities for the Saudi team to score. Bahrain only had three such opportunities, and the Saudi team had possession of the ball 66% of the time while the same rate for Bahrain stood at 34%.
Six Saudi players shot the ball toward Bahrain’s goal, the most prominent of which was forward Nasser Al-Shamrani, also a Hilal Saudi Club player, who shot four balls. One led to the first goal for his team in the match while the other three hit the goal posts, and Al-Shamrani set up two chances to score as did his colleague Salman Al-Faraj. Salem Al-Dawsari missed two of these chances despite his obvious brilliance throughout the match. He shot the ball three times and was one of the leading players on his team throughout the game.