Following up on our part 1 of the winners and losers series of the recent Gulf Cup, in which we discussed the top 5 losers of the tournament, now it’s time to examine the top 5 winners of the 22nd Gulf Cup.
Qatar National Team
Following their draw against Yemen in the second round of group A, not many Qataris seemed optimistic about the prospect of their national team’s luck throughout the remainder of the tournament. Qatar needed a win against Bahrain, while hoping Yemen do not pull a miracle against hosts Saudi Arabia. Their opposition, Bahrain, had lost 3-0 to Saudi Arabia the round before with two of those goals scored through friendly fire. Nothing could be easier than breaking through a defense lacking in confidence, yet the match ended in a dreadful and lackluster score line that was beginning to take shape as a curse of some sort, as it was the 4th goalless draw in 10 matches. Regardless, the ‘Annabi’ had just done enough to squeeze through as runners up after Yemen lost to Saudi Arabia. They were to face highflying Oman in the KO stages; a team that had just thrashed Kuwait by five goals.
The match began with the Omani’s taking the lead through a wonderful volley by Raed Saleh in the 24th minute. The celebration was equally wonderful with players striking a pose for the camera man around the corner flag in something that looked like a photo shoot than a football match. Eight minutes later however Omani veteran goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi made a rash late challenge that gave the Qataris the chance to equalize from the spot. Hasan Al Haydos converted and Qatar had gained its momentum back. Twenty minutes in the 2nd half Qatar had scored two more through their sub Ali Asad and the Annabi were in the final to face their group rivals Saudi Arabia.
The opening match of the tournament between the two sides saw Saudi take the lead, only for Qatar to get an equalizer through a corner kick. The final wouldn’t be so kind to the Saudis. Once again Saudi took the lead, and moments later Qatar equalized through a corner. The difference this time around was that Qatar managed to find a second through a beautifully struck volley by Boualem Khoukhi in the 58th minute. The blowing of the final whistle saw Qatar, not only walking away with the title, but also the country’s first win against Saudi Arabia in more than two decades. The Qataris’ run to the cup was unmatched in excitement. From their six games played, four ended up with them chasing the lead. The Annabi set an example of determination and spirit that was seen lacking in some of the other teams from the region. Qatar, its players, and its fans deserved to go back home as champions.
Qatari Media (beIN/Alkass)
Khalid Jassem – a TV host at Qatari channel Al Kass – suggested an idea to his Saudi colleagues ahead of the tournament. The idea was to rent a resting area for all the tournament’s journalists to unwind at after the day’s events had come to a close – a “journalists zone” where the journalists could share and discuss ideas without their notes and cameras. The idea was welcomed, and what could be seen as a one-time gathering could might as very well end up a tradition in the future. This was the beginning of a two-week effort made by both beIN and Alkass which was unmatched by any other channel. Programs around the clock and numerous guests on a daily basis by both channels kept the content fresh, and worth waiting for. Al Kass in particular were so successful in their coverage that they designated a segment at the end of their show to thank the people by sending them gifts, as well as hosting their family dinners. The international Qatari giant sports network beIN was also heavily busy, and was paid a surprise visit by the Emir of Al Riyadh Province, HRH Prince Turki bin Abdullah Al Saud as a result of their efforts throughout the two week tournament. Both channels in the end had set an example of how to cover a tournament of such regional importance in a way that ensured fan engagement not just from a country but throughout the region.
Yemen National Team
Supporters of the other three teams in the group would disregard talking about the fixture against Yemen altogether, considering it a guaranteed win. The only question about that fixture would be “by how many goals are we going to win?” The reality took a different turn when Yemen terrorized Bahrain in the first match of the tournament. The Yemeni squad for the tournament was built using high school kids, college students and part-time workers. The lack of experience would show when the team would rush shots and mistime runs while attacking, but the display was still entertaining to a neutral. Yemen was playing quick, brave, and competitive football. They ended up drawing 0-0 with both Bahrain and Qatar, respectively.
The stage was set for a final round showdown with called for a do-or-die attitude for the Yemenis. The attitude was there, but the inexperience showed as Saudi Arabia managed to get a goal before the half hour mark which would be the deciding goal. Yemen were out, but with their highest point tally in their history in the tournament, their least goals allowed tally by a mile, and a style of game play never seen before. The future is unclear about Yemeni football, but one thing remains for sure in that the discussion about their fixture will have a different tone from now on.
The stadiums were expected to be as empty as they were for the opening fixture between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, yet the numbers were only increasing. The stadium did not fill up but the difference in attendance was very noteworthy for the Yemenis. They had managed to surpass the attendance of the home crowd for tournament’s opener. Regardless of the presence of Yemeni expatriates in the Kingdom’s capital, the fact remains that these fans showed up to see their countrymen play. Their following fixture saw the crowd in numbers, especially after the thrilling first game display by the young Yemenis. Organizers were left astonished yet chose not to allocate a majority of the stadium to the Yemeni support for their final fixture against Saudi Arabia expecting that the home crowd would finally show up in numbers for their deciding game.
The Saudis didn’t show up, yet the Yemeni crowd was growing even more than ever in numbers. The organizers figured a 50/50 split would be enough to fill up the stadium by both crowds, and after doing so noticed the huge difference as the Yemeni side had no blue seats left and the Saudi side was still noticeably empty. The Yemenis forced an unprecedented decision on the organizers. For the first time in the Khaleeji history, the away crowd would be more in attendance in the stadium than the home crowd. It was a beautiful thing to watch, and it was certainly nothing new to Yemeni football supporters. Khaleeji 20, which was held Yemen, was – and still is – the highest Khaleeji attendance to date.
Ali Mabkhout (UAE/Al Jazirah striker)
Ali Mabkhout had registered his name in the history books of the Gulf Cup when he found the net twice in UAE’s charge towards the title in the 21st edition of the tournament. By the time Khlaeeji 22 had started he was a guaranteed starter in UAE’s lineup, and Ali did not disappoint. The Emirati found the back of the net on five occasions in the group stages. More than enough to guarantee that the golden boot be his by the end of the tournament. What makes Mabkhout’s goals all the more delightful is that three of those five were from outside the box – with one being the screamer that he scored against Iraq. His other two goals weren’t any worse either, especially his cheeky chip to beat Kuwait’s veteran goalkeeper Nawaf Al Khaldi in their 2-2 draw against the Azrag. His maturity as a striker in the national team had shown for, a position that remains as a concern for the country as they look forward to the Asian Cup. From Ali Mabkhout’s display in Khaleeji 22, it finally seems like that there is nothing to worry about.