Boss Herve Renard is expecting a contest for the ages when his Saudi Arabia meet fellow heavyweights Qatar in Thursday’s hotly anticipated Gulf Cup semi-finals.
The regional rivals both overcame troubled starts, hosts Qatar were humbled 2-1 by Group A-winners Iraq and a severely depleted Saudi went down 3-1 to Kuwait upon their way to topping Group B, to roar into the knockouts.
These results have guaranteed a sold-out clash at the redeveloped Al Janoub Stadium between the Middle East’s two strongest sides, from which superstars such as 2019 AFC Player of the Year Akram Afif and ex-Villarreal loanee Salem Al Dawsari will be pitted against each other.
“It is good to face a strong team who are the Asian champions,” said Renard, whose troops beat holders Oman 3-1 to guarantee their spot. “We (also) have an excellent team and good players.
“I know Qatar are doing well and are a capable team. I congratulate Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez for his good work.
“I am excited about this match because it will be between two big teams, and in a stadium full of fans.
“This is the fun of football. It is true that our fans will be less, but I have trust in my team.
“It will be a beautiful match and we will work to prepare for it as required.”
Both nations are bidding to claim a fourth Gulf Cup crown. Qatar’s last triumph came five years ago when they defeated the Saudis in Riyadh, while the latter last prevailed in 2003/04.
Meanwhile, Bahrain supremo Helio Sousa is looking to the future – rather than dwelling on recent success – ahead of the last-four tie versus rampant Iraq.
The Bahrainis beat Kuwait 4-2 in Monday’s final Group B fixture to edge through. This ensured a repetition of 2017/18’s charge to the semis.
Sousa, 50, will also be buoyed by the fact that in August he guided the Dilmun’s Warriors to their first-ever regional title with a 1-0 defeat of Iraq in the WAFF Championship.
He said: “Our next opponents Iraq are a strong team and they have had great performances in the competition.
“At the moment they are one of the best teams in Asia while we are building a new team and we must keep growing to compete with such strong teams.
“We have 23 players in our squad who are ready to play at any time. I’m working to make a special identity for the team by making all the players capable of playing.”
The final is set to be played on Sunday at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium.
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