Saudi Arabia fail to impose themselves in Gulf Cup opener

Three-time winners Saudi Arabia scraped to a 1-1 draw with Qatar in the opening game of the Gulf Cup

Published: Updated:

Three-time winners Saudi Arabia scraped to a 1-1 draw with Qatar in the opening game of the Gulf Cup on Thursday in a virtually deserted King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh.

With seven of the eight sides also qualified for next year’s Asian Cup in Australia, the Saudis had an opportunity to stamp their authority early on the regional tournament but wasted at least two golden opportunities and were dominated by Qatar.

Fahd Al Muwalid opened the scoring for the hosts in the 37th minute, capitalising on one of the few times they had the ball in the first half.

Qatar, buoyed by FIFA’s earlier decision to keep them as hosts of the 2022 World Cup, gained control after halftime with central defender Ibrahim Majid taking advantage of some sloppy defending to head home a corner in the 53rd minute.

Despite the Qatari domination, the hosts’ substitute Karim Boudiaf and Khoukhi Boualem wasted two golden opportunities to put the game beyond doubt.

Saudi Arabia coach Juan Roman Lopez Caro, who took over from Frank Rijkaard last year after the Saudi team went out of the first round in 2013 tournament in Bahrain, criticized his defense for the result.

“We trained a lot on the crosses, but again we paid the price for the same mistake,” Lopez Caro said in a press conference.

Yemen, the only side not qualified for the Jan. 9-31 Asian Cup in Australia, received massive support from their fans at the ground to secure a 0-0 draw with Bahrain and give coach Miroslav Soukup a welcome 49th birthday present.

It was the Yemenis first point in the competition since 2007, having lost their last 11 games in the tournament. They have not won a game in their six previous appearances.

“The fans were fantastic, the player put in 100 percent (effort) from the first minute,” the Czech coach said.

“Before the game I asked them for the three points as my birthday present, but I am also happy with one.”

Holders UAE play Oman while Kuwait, who have won 10 of the 21 titles, take on Iraq in Group B matches on Friday.