BAHRAIN: ARAB NEWS
Published — Saturday 5 January 2013
Last update 4 January 2013 10:13 pm
Bahrain looks to capitalize on the home advantage tonight when they take on former champions Oman as the 21st Gulf Cup gets underway at the National Stadium in Riffa.
Today’s opener, set for 7.25 p.m. kick-off, is a key match for both teams seeking a morale victory and a flying start to this prestigious football championship.
King Hamad will patronage today’s opening ceremony, set to tip off at 6 p.m. Stadium gates will be closed at 5.30 p.m. as per the organizing plans for the fans entry.
There are eight teams taking part in the event. The teams have been divided in two groups.
Group ‘B’ includes defending champions Kuwait, three-time winners Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen.
The first day’s program sees Qatar taking on the UAE in the second match, to be held at Khalifa Spots City Stadium in Isa Town at 9.15pm.
Qatar twice, and the UAE and Oman — once each — were the other winners of the Gulf Cup, which has grown in stature since the launch of the championships in 1970.
Host country Bahrain, who have never won the title before, will face a daunting task tonight facing 2009 champions and one of the trophy contenders this year Oman.
Bahrain had finalized their preparation last night at the National Stadium under their Argentinean coach Gabriel Calderon.
The Bahrainis hope make the most of this edition held on home soil to fulfill the dream they have been cherished since the competition’s inspection in 1970 when Bahrain hosted the first tournament.
Calderon, who replaced Englishman Peter Taylor last month, will play the tournament while relying on some of the kingdom’s best football players.
Some of Calderon’s best options tonight are veteran midfielder Mohammed Salmeen and striker Ismaeel Abdullatif, both returning from recent injuries.
Other prominent members are strikers Jaycee John and Sami Al Hussaini, midfielders Faouzi Aaish, Sayed Dia and Hussain Salman, goalkeeper Sayed Mohammed Jaffer, defernder Abdulla Al Marzooqi and skipper Mohammed Hussain.
Oman, who sent a 23-player squad to Bahrain last Thursday, will also seek all three winning points from Bahrain to stay in contention for the top two spots for a berth in the semi-finals.
But Oman, under its coach Paul le Guen of France, will be missing star goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi for the second consecutive Gulf Cup. The 31-year-old goalkeeper was unable to travel to Bahrain despite the tireless efforts of the Oman Football Association officials and coach le Guen as the English Premier League side Wigan Athletic refused to release the Omani hero for the 21st edition of the championship.
Instead, the 48-year-old coach named Fayez Al Rashidi as Al Habsi’s substitute for the duration of the tournament.
Le Guen is also likely to introduce his experienced players for today’s match, including defender Hassan Mudafar, trio midfieders – Faouzi Bashir, Ahmed Mubarak and Ahmed Hadid, besides dangerous striker Amad Al Hosani.
Meanwhile, the teams’ final line-ups were submitted yesterday at the technical meeting at the Sheraton Hotel.
Chaired by tournament director Ahmed Al Nuaimi, the meeting was attended by teams managers, administrators and media co-ordinators, who were briefed on the tournament regulations.
The Doping Committee, headed by Dr. Hussain Al Haddad, had put its final arrangements to ensure smooth operation of its tests during the tournament.
A team of Doping Control Officers from the Asian Football Confederation visited the National Stadium and Khalifa Sports City Stadium to look into the procedures and steps taken by the organizers.