REIGNING champions Bahrain take on Oman tonight in a high-intensity semi-final of the eight-nation 25th Arabian Gulf Cup at the 65,000-seat Basra International Stadium in the Iraqi city of Basra with head coach Helio Sousa saying the game “would be decided by the little details”.
The defending champions, who won their maiden Gulf Cup title in December, 2019, reached the last-four stage by topping Group B while two-time champions Oman placed second in Group A.
“This will be one more difficult game for us,” Sousa, who played for his native Portugal in the 1990s, said at a Press conference yesterday. “Oman are a very good team, a very strong side, and we have been playing well too so that means there will be two very good teams playing this game.
“That’s why I think the match will be decided by the little details, the small details. Both teams have different styles of play, they play to a different level of intensity and both will try to express their best qualities.”
Sousa, who took over as the Bahrain coach in early 2019 and was in charge when the team won the competition for the first time ever, added that, while he took it as a compliment that his team were considered tournament favourites by virtue of being defending champions by the Press, things were very different from three years ago.
“People think that just because we won the last Gulf Cup, it automatically means that we will win this one as well,” he explained. “But the reality is that the teams in this tournament have been stronger, they view us in a different way much like we view them differently.
“But we have played well to reach the semi-final. We played three fantastic games in the group stage where we were better than our opponents. And we must do even better against Oman if we intend to reach the final and win the cup.
“We last played Oman in the Arab Cup and the way they have played in this tournament is different from how they played then. They have some very good players but we will try to be prepared for them and we will try to play the game on our own terms to win it.”
Bahrain midfielder Mahdi Abdullatif, who sat alongside Sousa, declared that he and his teammates would go all out for a win.
“I know that my teammates have been preparing hard for this game and we are all ready to take Oman on,” he said. “We will give it our all on the field so that we can qualify for the final and, hopefully, go on to win the final as well.”
Abdullatif added that, more than for themselves, the team wanted to retain the title for the people of Bahrain.
“We are grateful for the support we receive from the entire Kingdom of Bahrain,” he said. “We hope to win the cup again to bring joy to our people.”
Meanwhile, Oman head coach, former Croatian star Branko Ivankovic said his team had exhibited great character in reaching the semi-finals and also praised Bahrain for being an “organised team with technical stability”.
“We were in a difficult group and we are very satisfied that we reached this stage in the competition,” he explained. “I believe reaching the semi-finals in itself is a big achievement for all the teams that make it this far.”
Oman drew with hosts Iraq and beat Yemen and three-time champions Saudi Arabia en route to the last-four stage.
“But we will not take Bahrain lightly,” Ivankovic added. “They were the favourites to win this tournament and they are a highly-organised team with technical stability.
“I know that we beat them in the group stage of the Arab Cup in our last meeting but today’s match will be played in different circumstances. They will be playing to win and we also have a burning desire to reach the final.”
Oman midfielder Salaah Al Yahyaei echoed his coach’s praise for Bahrain but said his team was looking forward to securing a win.
“This match is obviously very important for both teams,” he said. “And we will be up against a very good team with some excellent players.
“But I and my teammates are only focused on winning and reaching the final so that we can compete for the title.”
The game will kick off at 8.15pm.
The first semi-final, between Group A toppers, Iraq, and second-placed Group B side, Qatar, will start earlier, at 4.15pm.
Both matches will be played at the Basra International Stadium.