United Arab Emirates won this year’s Gulf Cup of Nations on Friday night. They needed extra-time before eventually seeing off tough opposition in the form of Iraq with Ismail Al Hammadi’s winner in the 107th minute proving the difference between the two sides.
Both nations had emerged top of their respective groups in the league stages, both of whom registering a 100% record with three wins from three, but were made to fight it out in the semi-finals with the UAE knocking out Kuwait with a goal in the 89th minute whilst Iraq needed a penalty shoot-out in order to dispose of tournament hosts Bahrain after they had been involved in a 1-1 draw.
In Friday’s final United Arab Emirates took the lead after 27 minutes thanks to Omar Abdulrahman but, with the match petering out into the closing stages, Iraq found an equalizer in the 80th minute with Younis Mahmoud getting himself on the score sheet. Cue extra-time and a winning strike from Al Hammadi two minutes into the second period gave the UAE their second Gulf Cup of Nations title, just six years after their maiden triumph.
The 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations kicks off this weekend in Bahrain with the tournament hosts getting things under way on Saturday facing off against Oman in the opening match. Defending champions Kuwait, who are hoping to win the tournament for a record extending eleventh time, will get their campaign under way on Sunday against Yemen.
Kuwait’s victory in the 2010 tournament was the first time they had won the trophy for twelve years, a substantial drought given that they had previously been so successful in a competition which began in 1970. Their narrow 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in 2010 was sealed in extra-time thanks to midfielder Waleed Ali, leaving many Kuwaiti football fans to hope of a return to the days of dominance they enjoyed before 1998. Kuwait won the first four editions of this tournament from 1970-76 and went on to win it another five times in the next 22 years. From 1998, however, Saudi Arabia enjoyed a brief period of success winning back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003. Qatar enjoyed home success in 2004 before a pair of first-time champions – namely United Arab Emirates and Oman – hoisted the trophy aloft in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Kuwait’s win in 2010 was a huge relief to the nation but it also brings back the pressure of defending the title, something which they will begin to do in Group B along with Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Bahrain are tournament hosts swapping the role with Iraq who are now expected to host the event in 2015. This is the fourth time that Bahrain will host the event, following on from the 1970, 1986 and 1998 tournaments, and on no such occasion have they ended up as champion. Indeed, out of the eight participants featuring in the Gulf Cup, only Bahrain and Yemen have yet to emerge victorious in the history of the competition. The hosts will feature in Group A with Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates making up the rest of a potentially tight group.
The group stages will finish on January 12th and will then see the top two of each group meet in the semi-finals three days later. Finals day comes on January 18th with a third/fourth place play-off beginning proceedings in Isa Town before the final match takes place in the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa.