BASRA: Hosts Iraq will meet Oman in the final of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup in Basra on Thursday, after both teams recorded narrow victories in Monday’s semi-finals.
Iraq, who last appeared in the final of the biennial tournament in 2013 and last lifted the trophy in 1988, thrilled more than 60,000 fans at Basra International Stadium with a hard-fought 2-1 win over the 2022 World Cup hosts, Qatar.
Ibrahim Bayesh has been one of the standouts of the tournament, and the 22-year-old Iraqi midfielder was the one to open the scoring after 19 minutes when he swept home the rebound from close range after goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham could only parry a header from a free-kick.
Nine minutes later, however, Qatar were back on level terms. Iraqi goalkeeper Jalan Hassan tried to punch clear a back-heel that had gone wrong but the ball fell to Amro Surag to volley home through a crowd of players.
Iraq regained the lead just before the break. Qatar gave the ball away and Aymen Hussein’s shot from the edge of the area took a deflection and looped over Barsham into the net.
Both teams had chances in the second half and Barsham made more than one fine save to keep Qatar’s hopes alive. Meanwhile, the Iraqi defense managed to repel some fierce attacks. They ultimately managed to hold on, prompting wild celebrations on the terraces when the final whistle sounded, and a message of congratulations from Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani.
The victory gives the Lions of Mesopotamia the chance to claim their first international silverware since lifting the Asian Cup in 2007.
“Now we can think about winning the title and the players are itching for it,” Iraq’s coach, Jesus Casas, said after the game.
“I am happy with my team as all players worked toward the win. Our defense was very good against Qatar. Our aim was to close spaces in the final third and not allow Qatar to make passes. It is impossible to avoid mistakes in football and we made one that cost us a goal … but we kept going.”
For Qatar, it was a disappointing end to a tournament that did at least signal the start of a rebuilding process after the disaster of the World Cup, when the hosts lost all three games.
“I am proud of what the team has achieved here without much experience, and the players should also be proud of themselves for their performance,” said temporary coach Bruno Pinheiro.
“But we didn’t play as a team today and gave spaces to Iraq, letting them score. Iraq also had an extra day for rest, which went in their favor. I wish luck to Iraq in the final and I want to thank the Iraqi fans for supporting us in the tournament.”
While all the goals in the first semi-final of the day came in the first half, in the second, fans of Oman and Bahrain had to wait until seven minutes from the end before the deadlock was broken in the clash between the winners of the two most recent tournaments.
Both teams had chances to win it but the deciding goal, when it finally came, was a spectacular one. Jameel Al-Yahmadi fired home a rocket from outside the area to leave Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Jaffer with no chance. The only goal of the game, it was worthy of winning any game.
Now the two-time champions, who last won the tournament in 2018, are 90 minutes from title number three. To do so, however, they will have to defeat an entire nation on the field, in spirit, on Thursday in Basra. Whatever happens, it should make for quite a clash.