With a large spread of teams in with a shout of victory, this year's Gulf Cup looks set to be characterised by its openness. The hosts Oman, the defending champions UAE and Saudi Arabia may be highly fancied, but the likes of Iraq and Bahrain are among the more dangerous of the remaining dark horses. Iraq have flattered to deceive since their sensational win at the 2007 Asian Cup.
Their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign smacked of indifference, but their underachievement in tumbling from the reckoning for the jamboree in South Africa next summer should make them determined for success in the new year. Their preparations have not gone to plan, with most of Iraq's key players unable to attend the training camps due to their club commitments. A draw against Al Ahli in their final game before the kick off against Bahrain on Sunday hasn't exactly given much inspiration to their aspirations of winning a fourth Gulf Cup title.
But, Nashat Akram, the Iraqi playmaker, says his side want to compensate their fans after letting them down. "The disappointment of our failure to make the 2010 World Cup will act as an incentive for us in Oman," he said. Goalkeeper Noor Sabri also had the people of his war-ravaged nation in mind when he said: "We want to bring some joy to the life of our suffering people and we pray to God to help us in achieving this noble objective."
Bahrain will be equally determined to finally get their name on the winners' list of a tournament they instituted. They have fallen at the final hurdle four times and will be desperate to go one better in Oman. Bahrain will also be missing their influential midfielder Rashid al Dossary due to injury and neutralised striker Jaycee John is not available after his Belgian club refused to release him.
But they won't be lacking in fire-power with A'ala Hubail, one of Asia's finest talents, leading the attack. The Bahrainis will give it their all, for it might be the last chance for their "Golden Generation" of veterans to win a trophy before retirement. email@example.com