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Saudi Arabia ready for Gulf Cup

Juan Antonio Pizzi will meet with the Saudi Arabia Football Federation today to start planning for the World Cup. (AP)
DUBAI: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have all confirmed their participation in the on-off 2017 Gulf Cup of Nations, due to kick off in Kuwait on Dec. 22.
The three countries had refused to confirm their participation in the tournament because it was due to be staged in Qatar, and Gulf Cup Football Federation Jassim Al-Rumaihi had said the competition was, as a result, “unlikely to take place.” But the late switching of the tournament to Kuwait, following the lifting of a suspension by FIFA, has prompted a rethink.
An official announcement by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) on Saturday confirmed their participation in the 23rd edition of the tournament, following statements by Bahrain and the UAE, but spokesman Mohamed Al-Shaikh told Arab News that it is still unclear whether a full-strength KSA team will be sent to Kuwait.
The SAFF will meet with national team boss Juan Antonio Pizzi in Riyadh today to decide the best course of action, according to Al-Shaikh. The Argentinian coach was appointed by the SAFF last month and the Gulf Cup will be his first assignment as he attempts to build and shape a team for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
As Saudi Arabia had no plans of participating in the Gulf Cup, there is no break scheduled in the Saudi Pro League fixtures list, but the competitions department at the SAFF is now set to postpone gameweeks 15 and 16, which were scheduled to take place between Dec. 21 and 29, to allow international players to join Pizzi’s squad in Kuwait.
Despite not being recognized as an official regional tournament under FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation, the Gulf Cup has taken place on a biennial basis since 1970 with few interruptions, and is held in high regard by the local fans.
The competition has traditionally featured seven countries, the six Gulf Cooperation Council members alongside Iraq. In 2003, Yemen was admitted to the tournament and its format was changed to two groups of four, the top two of each group advance to the knock-out style semifinal.
Kuwait holds the record for most titles in the Gulf Cup with ten triumphs, while Saudi Arabia has won the competition three times, starting with the 1994 edition in the UAE, before lifting back-to-back trophies in 2002 on home soil and in 2003 in Kuwait.