Bader al-Motawaa (up) of Kuwait vies with Saud Kariri of Saudi Arabia during their Gulf Cup football match Kuwait against Saudi Arabia on Jan 12, in Manama. (AFP)
Kuwait into Cup semis Saudi knocked out as Iraq defeat Yemen 2-0

RIFA, Bahrain, Jan 12, (Agencies): Kuwait knocked Saudi Arabia out of the Gulf Cup by beating coach Frank Rijkaard’s side 1-0 on Saturday to secure a place in the semifinals.

The loss comes almost a year after the once-powerful Saudi side failed to advance in 2014 World Cup qualifying. The latest setback is likely to increase calls for Rijkaard’s dismissal, since he has done little to revive a side that was once among the best teams in the Middle East. The former Barcelona coach was given a three-year deal in June 2011 worth nearly $16 million.

Yousef al-Sulaiman’s strike in the 13th minute was enough for Kuwait which needed only a draw to advance. Al-Sulaiman shrugged off a defender and slotted home the winner. After that, Kuwait reverted to a defensive shell which Saudi Arabia found difficult to penetrate.

Still, the Saudis had chances, especially late in the match. Substitute Nasser al-Shamrani pounced on a deflection by Kuwait goalkeeper Nawaf Khalid al-Khaldy in the 73rd minute but his point-blank shot was punched away by al-Khaldy. Then, Saudi Arabia’s Taisir al-Jassim fired just wide in the 89th.

“We faced a very tough team tonight, a team that has prominent players with skills and physical advantage, but we have won with the right tactics by relying on fast counterattacks,” Kuwait coach Goran Tufegdzic said. “It wasn’t easy to beat Saudi Arabia. They were playing the best football of the competition. But our players were motivated.”

Rijkaard said his team never recovered after giving up the early goal.

“It was important for us to win full points and in matches like this it’s very important to score first. Unfortunately, it was Kuwait who could,” Rijkaard said. “We didn’t perform well in the first half but we played better in the second. We had more than one opportunity after tactical changes and we took control of the ball but fortunate was not with our players this time.” Rijkaard said his fate lies with the Saudi federation which has a history of sacking coaches after big losses. It fired Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro after a 2-1 loss to Syria in the Asian Cup opener in 2011, then his replacement, Nassir al-Johar, after the Saudis left the Asian Cup with a 5-0 loss to Japan in the group stage. ‘I share the feelings of Saudi fans and officials about our results,” Rijkaard said. “I’m not happy myself. I want the best and hope the image of the team changes.” Iraq, which already qualified in Group B, beat Yemen 2-0 to remain undefeated in the tournament.

As a result, Iraq will play Bahrain in the semifinals on Tuesday while Kuwait will face the United Arab Emirates.

Iraq lead the group with nine points out of three matches and followed by Kuwait with six points. Kuwait had many chances to increase the score but all in vain. The Saudis came in the second half determined to equalize, applying pressure and attacking the Kuwaiti goal but the ball was either outside or saved by goalkeeper Nawaf Al-Khaldi.

Meanwhile, to support the Kuwaiti national team in the match against Saudi Arabia during the Gulf Cup, roughly 43,000 citizens have left the country through Al-Nuwaiseeb border exit over the past few days, heading to Bahrain to attend the match, reports Al-Watan Arabic daily. Due to the unprecedented number, the port administration has opened extra counters to facilitate their exit, and entry to the country after the end of the match.

Under the directives of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Sheikh Ahmad Al-Khaled Al-Sabah ordered to allocate four transportation planes to transfer fans of Kuwaiti football team to Bahrain prior to their match in Bahrain against Saudi Arabia.
In a statement, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Khaled expressed thanks and appreciation to His Highness the Amir for his support to sport and athletes in the country and praised the premier for following up on the directives which would ensure implementation and provide ease to the fans during their travel.
Recently, two planes from the Kuwaiti Air Force were allocated to transfer Kuwaiti fans to Bahrain to attend previous matches of the same tournament.


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