Oman produced another stunning display to reach their third successive Gulf Cup final - but they had to see off a late bout of nerves before sending Qatar packing last night in the opening semi-final at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex. Hassan Rabia put the hosts ahead in the 19th minute and that solitary strike was enough to see Claude Le Roy's men through. The scoreline could have been more had Oman converted some of the opportunities they created on a wet pitch left by the heavy showers that swept across Muscat earlier in the day.
Having gone through four games without conceding a goal, Oman will be hoping it is third time lucky after being losing finalists in the last two Gulf Cups. They can also take heart from the fact that the two host teams, Qatar and UAE, won the last two championships in Doha and Abu Dhabi respectively. Oman went close twice early on. The first was a long throw from Hassan al Gheilani that the Qatar captain Bilal Mohammed nearly headed into his own goal in the ninth minute, but an alert Mohammed Saqer Ahmed pushed it over.
Bader Mubarak al Maymani, the hero of Oman's last game, hit a free-kick wide from the edge box seven minutes later after a foul on Rabia by Bilal Mohammed. Then came the decisive moment for Oman. The unmarked Rabia picked up a loose ball before blasting it into the right hand top corner after a lofted pass was totally missed on the edge box by both Qatar defender Talal Ali al Balushi and the Omani Ismail al Ajmi.
It was a superb strike as Rabia controlled the ball and fired almost in the same motion. The striker continued his excellent form following his hat-trick which destroyed Iraq in Oman's 4-0 group stage victory. Oman continued to attack on the resumption and Emad Ali al Hosni had a couple of clear-cut chances. The first he fired wide in front of a crowded goalmouth two minutes in and a volley from the edge area did not have the sting to beat Saqar Ahmed on the hour.
Qatar's best chance of cancelling the lead came late in the game as Oman started to panic and their confident passing game faltered. But Ali al Habsi, who had rescued his team by saving a potential equalising spot kick against Iraq, was the hero again. The Bolton keeper made a superb save to deny Markoni Costa's diving header from a corner in the 74th minute and then pushed out a curling ball from Sebastian Soria five minutes later to leave the home fans celebrating.
It was little more than Le Roy's Oman team deserved, and Bruno Metsu's fast-fading Qatar could easily have been on the end of an even heavier beating. Qatar, had reached the final four with an injury-time goal against Yemen. They kept fighting, but never looked like a side that could beat the hosts on the night. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org