Gulf Cup: UAE and Qatar headline grandstand finish to groups, Bader Al Mutawa merits one more shot

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An evening laced with consequence and drama awaits for Monday’s grandstand finish to the Gulf Cup’s group stage.

Only Group A-leaders Iraq are confirmed as semi-finalists from the biennial tournament’s eight-nation field. A straight shootout between hosts Qatar and rivals the UAE provides the headline match from that section, though giants Saudi Arabia must beat holders Oman in Group B to stand any chance of ending a 15-year wait for their fourth regional crown.

NIGHT FULL OF WHITE HEAT

Eyes across the Gulf will be transfixed on events at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium on Monday night.

A heavyweight is guaranteed to receive a knockouts blow when Bert van Marwijk’s two-time Gulf Cup champions, the UAE meet Asian Cup winners Qatar.

The Whites were not meant to be taking part in the 24th edition until they joined Bahrain and the Saudis in accepting second invitations from the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation, the tournament’s governing body, on November 12. Fresh circumstance has since ramped up already high stakes after both were beaten by the impressive Iraqis, meaning just one quarter-final spot is available.

A last meeting witnessed Qatar prevail in the Emirates on their way to shock victory at January 2019’s continental competition. But if they lose on Monday, it’ll be they who exit on home soil despite being favourites along with the Saudis.

The Whites will also hope to stain winger Akram Afif’s likely crowning as AFC Player of the Year on the same night. On the other hand, Van Marwijk’s mixed start will extend if Qatar avoid defeat and make the last-four at his side’s expense.

Neither country will dare be on the wrong side of this one.

CAVALRY MUST KEEP COMING TO THE RESCUE

What was all the panic about, then?

A Green Falcons side without Al Hilal’s 2019 AFC Champions League heroes were alarmingly felled 3-1 by Kuwait, ranked 80 places below them by FIFA. Cue, predictable, outbursts about elimination and coach Herve Renard’s employment.

An injection of six Crescent starters then ensured a 2-0 procession followed versus Bahrain, although Al Shabab youngster Abdullah Al Hamddan and Al Ahli Jeddah centre-back Mohammed Al Khabrani were the ones to get the goals.

Oman were the surprise package of the previous edition. Veteran striker Abdulaziz Al-Muqbali also evidenced his continued proficiency in front of goal when he converted two penalties to beat Kuwait 2-1 on Saturday.

They should, though, provide no barrier to Saudi success at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium. Not when you possess so many of Asia’s best footballers.

ANOTHER AL MUTAWA MASTERCLASS?

It takes something extraordinary to unite the various hordes of Gulf football.

Veteran Kuwait striker Bader Al Mutawa’s masterclass did that versus the Saudis. The 34-year-old, 177-cap stalwart conjured a pair of fine assists, sparking Qatar star Almoez Ali to join the legion of appreciative tweeters.

A quirk of Al Mutawa’s birthdate has guaranteed he’s missed out on The Blues’ solitary World Cup appearance and nine of their record 10 Gulf Cup triumphs.

But beat Bahrain and a swansong to one of the region’s finest international careers will remain in sight.

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