REIGNING champions Bahrain will face Oman tomorrow in a hotly-anticipated semi-final of the eight-nation 25th Arabian Gulf Cup at the 65,000-seat Basra International Stadium in the Iraqi city of Basra.
Having topped Group B with seven points following their 1-1 draw with Kuwait on Friday night, the team took part in a training session supervised by head coach Helio Sousa yesterday.
Earlier, in a post-match Press conference following the Kuwait fixture, Sousa, who has been the Bahrain coach since early 2019, said, in his usual circumspect manner, that his team would be focused only on the semi-final, and nothing else.
“I have said this before and after every match,” he said. “We are taking this tournament one game at a time. Now, we are only concentrating on the semi-final and not thinking about the final at this stage.
“I have said from the beginning that the longer we stay in the competition, the better our chances of retaining the title. We will have an opportunity to win the cup if we triumph in the semi-final, so we need to maintain our focus on that game.”
Two-time champions Oman are likely to be tough opponents, having built up momentum through the tournament after a goalless draw against hosts Iraq in their first Group A game.
They, then, defeated Yemen, who have never progressed beyond the group stage, 3-2 before causing a big upset by beating three-time champions Saudi Arabia, 2-1, in their last game on Friday to finish level on seven points with Iraq but second in the table because of goal difference.
But Bahrain, who won their maiden Gulf Cup title in 2019 with Sousa in charge, have looked a champion side themselves, beating two-time winners the UAE, 2-1, in their opening game and defeating three-time champions Qatar in a thrilling, come-from-behind, 2-1, win last Tuesday before their drawn game against Kuwait.
After the team finished their training yesterday, midfielder Mohamed Marhoon struck a positive note, saying Bahrain deserved to qualify for the semi-finals and were now ready to face Oman.
“The game against Kuwait showcased how well we have played throughout the tournament,” he said. “We dominated the match and created several opportunities to score more goals than the one we ended up with but, unfortunately, those chances couldn’t be converted.
“But, now, we are only concentrating on the semi-final against Oman. We know we’ll have to prepare well for them and it’ll take a special effort to get us over the line, but we’re ready!”
Teammate Ahmed Bughammar added that, by qualifying for the semi-finals, Bahrain had achieved their first goal.
“We could have won against Kuwait but didn’t because of a few missed chances,” Bughammar, who plays as a centre-back, explained. “Coach Sousa had laid out a special strategy for the game and we followed it to the letter but, sometimes, luck doesn’t go your way.
“But the draw ensured that we achieved our first goal, which was to qualify for the last-four stage. Now, all we have to do is play as well as we can against Oman and qualify for the final.”
Meanwhile, the squad got an unexpected, pleasant boost yesterday when they received a video call from His Majesty King Hamad’s representative for humanitarian work and youth affairs and Supreme Council for Youth and Sport (SCYS) chairman Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
He praised the team for their outstanding performances in the group games, congratulated them on reaching the last-four stage and urged them to continue to play to the best of their ability in the semi-final.
The Bahrain-Oman game will kick off at 8.15pm tomorrow evening.
Iraq and Qatar, who finished second in Group B, will play the first semi-final in the afternoon at 4.15pm.
Both matches will take place at the Basra International Stadium.