The opening match of the twenty-fifth edition of the Arab Gulf Cup Football Championship, between host Iraq and Oman, ended in a goalless draw, at the Basra International Stadium in the south of the country, and was followed by a second match that ended with Saudi Arabia’s victory over Yemen with two clean goals.
Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani inaugurated the tournament, which will be hosted by the city of Basra from 6 to 19 January 2023, in the presence of the Swiss President of the International Federation of Football Associations, Gianni Infantino.
Al-Sudani said, “Today we are opening the 25th Gulf Championship on the beloved Basra stadiums. Welcome to the Gulf youth teams, fans and fans on the land of Iraq.”
The opening ceremony was also attended by the heads of football federations in some Arab countries. Such as the President of the Qatar Football Association, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Palestinian Jibril Rajoub, the Bahraini Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa and other sports personalities from the countries of the region.
This is the second time that Iraq has hosted this championship, after the first that was held in the capital, Baghdad, in 1979.
The first half of the match was not filled with any technical hints or mutual attempts to reach the two goals, with the exception of one attempt by Iraq, through a long shot from Hussein Jabbar in the second minute, which was hit by Omani goalkeeper Ibrahim Al-Makhili in the right place, and pushed it away with difficulty.
The last minute of the first half witnessed an Omani attempt that would have been translated into a goal had it not been for the miscalculation of Omani Arshad Al-Alawi, who sent his ball outside while facing the goal and Iraqi goalkeeper Jalal Hassan.
In the second half, the Iraqi team had the advantage, and Ayman Hussein’s header in the 60th minute was the most dangerous attempt in which the ball went just over the crossbar, which reversed the course of the match in favor of the Lions of Mesopotamia.
After nine minutes, Al-Alawi responded with a ball that passed by the post shortly.
The Iraqi team’s attempts continued on the Omani goal, and in the 76th minute Ali Ali Fadel hit a ball that went near the post.
And at the 86th minute, the Omani goal crossbar stood in the face of a strong, steady ball that was hit by Durgham Ismail.
Iraq and Oman have met 10 times in the tournament since its inception, Iraq won five matches and lost two matches, and the two teams tied in three confrontations.
Iraq, which is considered one of the strongest candidates for winning the title due to the factors of the land and the public, scored 23 goals against Oman in the previous matches between the two teams, while conceding 12 times.
“Gulf 25” will be the first challenge facing the Spanish coach of the Iraqi national team, Jesus Casas, in his first official appearance after his appointment.
Casas spoke before the meeting about the method that he will follow in the match, and he explained, “We will certainly rely on the Spanish style of play, and we seek to impose a specific method of play that is close to Spanish football.”
On the other hand, the Omani national team, led by Croatian coach Branko Ivankovic, who took charge of the team in early 2020, hopes to bring back memories of the 2017 Kuwait Gulf Cup final, when Oman won the title for the second time.
Saudi Arabia and Yemen
In the second match in the same group, the meeting between Saudi Arabia and Yemen ended with the victory of the first with two clean goals.
Saudi Arabia topped the group with three points compared to a point for each of Iraq and Oman, while Yemen bottomed the group without a balance.
Al-Akhdar Samihan Al-Nabit scored in the 18th minute, and Musab Al-Juwair in the 34th minute from a penalty kick.
The Yemen national team was close to scoring had it not been for goalkeeper Nawaf Al-Aqeedi’s saves to Ahmed Maher’s ball, and he grabbed it in two batches in the 9th minute.
There was an opportunity for Al-Akhdar, but Turki Al-Ammar’s ball was easily caught by Salem Al-Harish in the 15th minute.
From a coordinated attack, the Saudis succeeded in taking the lead when Samihan Al-Nabit received a ball on the edge of the penalty area, which he sent powerfully into the far right corner of Salem Al-Harish in the 18th minute.
Al-Akhdar got a penalty kick that Al-Juwair executed and played the ball strong to the right of Salem Al-Harish in the 34th minute.
In the second half, a favorable opportunity was provided for the Yemen national team to reduce the difference, but Ahmed Maher, who overtook the goalkeeper, played the ball away from the empty goal in the 60th minute.
Nawaf Al-Aqeedi continued his brilliance when he tackled a deceptive ball that ran out of the corner and ended its danger in the 67th minute, and Salem Al-Harish saved his goal from an accomplished goal when he tackled Raed Al-Ghamdi’s powerful ball in the 81st minute.
Saudi Arabia will meet Iraq next Monday, while Yemen will face Oman.
The Saudi national team is participating in the tournament in the second row, in light of the continuation of the local league championship competitions.
As for the Yemen national team, it seeks to achieve a surprise and achieve a positive result this time, after failing to achieve any victory in its previous nine participations in the tournament.
The Yemeni team is the only one among the eight participating teams in the Gulf Cup, which has not won the title before.
The city of Basra, in southern Iraq, has completed its preparations to host the tournament, amid an influx of fans of the participating countries to the city, after long decades that Iraq waited to host the tournament for the second time in its history, after the 1979 tournament in Baghdad, which Iraq won its title at the time.
The participating teams are divided into two groups; The first includes Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Oman, while the second includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the Emirates.
Two teams from each group qualify for the semi-finals, which will be held according to the knockout system.
The Gulf Cup championship was launched for the first time in 1970 with a single group system, with the participation of four countries, namely Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Kuwait won the title after collecting six points, while Bahrain came in second place.
Saudi Arabia hosted the second edition in 1972, when the number of participating countries increased to five countries after the accession of the United Arab Emirates, and for the second time Kuwait was crowned with the title.
In the third edition in 1974, which was hosted by Kuwait, the number of member states rose to six with the accession of the Sultanate of Oman, and Kuwait won the title for the third time.
Iraq joined the fifth edition and hosted the tournament in 1979, bringing the number of participating countries to seven. Iraq was able to win the title, then won the title after that in 1984 and 1988.
Qatar put an end to Kuwaiti-Iraqi hegemony over the tournament and won the title in 1992, when it hosted the tournament, which Iraq was prevented from participating in due to the second Gulf War.
In the 16th edition hosted by Kuwait in 2003, Yemen joined, bringing the number of participating countries to seven, and Saudi Arabia won the title.
In 2004, Doha hosted the tournament, and the number of participating teams increased to eight countries after Iraq returned to the competition, and Qatar won the title for the second time in its history.
The UAE was crowned Gulf Cup champion for the first time in the 18th edition, which was held in the UAE in 2007.
In the 19th Gulf Cup in 2009, the Sultanate of Oman, the host of that edition, was able to win its first cup.
The Kuwaiti team is considered to have won the Gulf Cup title ten times, followed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, each with three titles.