Qatar lose to Saudi Arabia in Gulf Cup semifinals
Doha: Three-time winners Saudi Arabia edged past Asian champions Qatar 1-0 in the fiercely-contested semi-final of the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup at Al Janoub Stadium.
The result is not what the majority of 42,025 spectators wanted, who turned out to back the home side at the spectacular FIFA World Cup 2022 venue.
Saudi Arabia will now meet Bahrain – who defeated Iraq on penalties in the first semi-final– in Sunday’s final at the Khalifa International Stadium.
With coach Felix Sanchez going with his most successful 3-4-2-1 formation, Qatar dominated the game but lacked goal-scoring touch as young striker Abdulla Hamdan’s strike for Saudi Arabia in the first half proved enough to deny them a place in the final leaving the fans dejected.
Qatar had a 62 percent of goal possession in the crunch match in which, they took 21 shots but accuracy was missing as only the couple of them were on target. Saudi Arabia were paid off for their solid defense that showed strong nerves to keep Qatari strikers in check.
Sanchez didn’t do much change in the Qatari squad – which crushed UAE 4-2 on Monday to seal the semi-final spot – with midfielder Abdulaziz Hatim being the only change, replacing defending midfielder Musaab Khidir.
Both the teams started on a similar note before Qatar started to attack the solid Saudi defense. Playing as a winger, Pedro Miguel created a golden opportunity in the seventh minute giving a perfectly-timed low cross but striker Almoez Ali failed to connect the ball from the goalmouth.
Qatar continued pushing the Saudi players on the back with repeated attacks but without pulling off a goal.
Looking composed, the ‘Green Falcons’ took their first shot only after 15 minutes when captain Nawaf Shaker sneaked inside the box making an attempt, which was blocked comfortably by goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.
The Herve Renard’s side then appeared to be on the driving seat and scored the opener through 20-year-old Al Hamdan, who fired the home side ahead in the 28th minute. Al Sheeb made an error as he failed to grasp a flying cross from right back Sultan Al Ghanam with Al Hamdan heading the ball into nets despite the last gasp efforts of Salem Al Hajri.
The goal generated a lot more pace in the match as Qatar strive to equalise with aggressive display creating many chances. With four minutes left in the halftime, Almoez’s pass found midfielder Abdulaziz Hatem in a good position inside the box but his strike was too wide. Hatem again got a chance after a ball from Miguel in the stoppage time but he hit the ball straight in hands of goalkeeper Fawaz Al Qarni.
While Saudis went into the halftime with a 1-0 lead, Qatar had a better share of ball possession during which the Sanchez’s side took six shots with just one on target.
The second half started with cautions by Kuwaiti referee Ahmed Alali to newly-crowned Asia’s best player Akram Afif and Saudi Arabian defender Mohammed Al Khabrani.
Al Annabi brought the cheering home fans on their feet with several more attacks created by their charging strikers. Hatem was unlucky in the 63rd minute as his direct attempt from a corner ricocheted off the post and the keeper’s head before Renard rotated his players with midfielder Hattan Bahebri replacing captain Nawaf.
With Qatar were still trailing, Sanchez sent Al Duhail star Mohammed Ismail in play in place of Pedro with 16 minutes left while Frenchman Renard called back goal-scorer Hamdan, replacing him with defender Ziyad Al Sahafi.
Afif, who was missing his heroics of the UAE game due to tight marking by the Saudi defenders, headed the ball high off a fine cross by Ismail.
There were plenty of more attacks from the home side prompting the Saudi players to adopt time-wasting tactics going down every time they were losing the ball.