West Asian teams have finalised their preparations for the upcoming Gulf Cup, the 22nd edition of the regional tournament, which kicks off this Thursday evening (local time) when hosts Saudi Arabia face Qatar in Riyadh.
The tournament, always important regionally, will be an important test event for many of the participants ahead of the AFC Asian Cup in January.
Defending champions UAE earned a hard-fought 3-2 win over Lebanon last Friday, thanks to a second-half hat trick from 23-year-old Al Ahli striker Ahmed Khalil. The win ended a six-match winless run for Mahdi Ali’s side.
Fellow Group B rivals Oman scored a 2-0 win over Yemen, although the performance was far from convincing and leaves coach Paul Le Guen with plenty of thinking to do before their first match against UAE on Friday.
Goals from Naif Hazazi and Fahd Al Muwallad gave Saudi Arabia a 2-0 win over Palestine, as the hosts look to claim their first Gulf Cup title since 2003.
One team that will give them a fight will be Qatar. The 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts won their fourth match on the bounce with a convincing 3-1 win over North Korea, with all three goals coming in a nine minute period early in the second half. The win follows October’s confidence-boosting wins over Uzbekistan (3-0) and Australia (1-0).
The Gulf Cup will see eight teams split across two groups, with the top two in each group advancing to the semi finals. The final will be played at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh on November 26.