The United Arab Emirates is coached by an Italian, Alberto Zaccheroni. And like any good Italian, he can employ catenaccio like a champ. UAE didn’t allow a single goal in the Arabian Gulf Cup. Unfortunately, his team couldn’t score, either, and Oman edged UAE in a shootout to win the Arabian Gulf Cup final on Friday in Kuwait City, Kuwait.
The UAE advanced through the knockout rounds with two 0-0 draws and a 1-0 win over Oman thanks to a penalty scored by Ali Mabkhout. In the semifinals, they beat Iraq in a shootout after another 0-0 draw.
Oman, for its part, scored all of four goals leading up to the final. The Omani scored on a penalty to beat Kuwait 1-0 in the group stage and beat Bahrain 1-0 in the semifinals thanks to an own goal. They also had a 2-0 win over World Cup participant Saudi Arabia with two goals that — believe it or not — were scored from open play.
While the Arabian Gulf Cup may not be the most talent-laden tournament in the world, it’s one of the most entertaining, not necessarily because of goal-scoring — the tournament has averaged more than 2.5 goals per match just once in the last 20 years — but because of parity. While Kuwait has won the most titles with 10, just one has come in the last 15 years. Since 2003-04, there have been five different winners in eight eight-nation tournaments. Compare that to the Gold Cup in North America (Mexico or the U.S. wins every year) or the Copa America in South America (three countries have won 37 of the 45 editions).
Oman didn’t win Friday with offense — no one was going to win this tournament with offense. Oman won thanks to not one but two penalty saves by Faiyz Al Rashidi on Omar Abdulrahman, one of the UAE’s best players.
Late in the match with the game getting stretched, a ball into the box from Abdulrahman saw Mabkhout taken down for a penalty. Abdulrahman stepped up to take the ensuing spot kick in the 90th minute, but Al Rashidi was there to make the save.
I have no idea what the announcer was saying but he was going absolutely nuts at this point.
So the match went to penalties, because scoring apparently was frowned upon in this tournament. Both teams made their first four shots before Abdulrahman again had his penalty kick saved. Mohsin Al Khaldi then buried his penalty to send Oman to its second Gulf Cup title and first since 2009.
The scenes after Al Khaldi’s spot kick were of pure delirium.
The Arabian Gulf Cup returns in 2019-20 when Qatar will be the host. Hopefully we see more goal scoring but we’ll likely see a new winner.