The memory of Bruno Metsu lifting the Gulf Cup will live long in the hearts and minds of UAE fans. Until three or so months ago, it would have been a dream of those supporters to see the shaggy-haired one do it again. That, however, was before he hotfooted it to Qatar.
Metsu's new men could be a threat in the 19th Gulf Cup but not the main one. They say that defending a title is more difficult than actually winning it in the first place. That maxim most certainly holds true when you win the initial prize at home and then try to retain it overseas. The UAE will find this out over the next two weeks or so when they head to Oman. The hosts have more reason than most to snatch the trophy. It was they who lost the final in Abu Dhabi two years ago to a late Ismail Matar strike.
That match is well-remembered by Oman fans still looking for a first competition win. Oman haven't had too much to shout about since then. Firing the man who took them to that runners-up spot in 2007 is one reason why. Milan Macala has been there and done that as far as West Asian football is concerned and it was a glaringly poor decision by the Oman FA to give him his marching orders. The Czech tactician has since got his revenge by taking new employers Bahrain to the final round of qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, eliminating his old team in the process of doing so.
Successors haven't impressed or stayed but Frenchman Claude Le Roy is a different proposition and with the cerebral former manager of Ghana at the helm, Oman are in with a shout of scoring a famous home success. The favourites, however, are probably Saudi Arabia - a tag earned by repeated appearances at the World Cup. The team ended 2008 on a low after a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of South Korea in World Cup qualification but a number of stars are on the road to recovery from injury.
Yasser al Qahtani is the best-known. If the 2007 Asian Player of the Year can stay fit then the Saudis will have a chance but the recent withdrawal of midfielder Mohammed Noor, a player appreciated more abroad than by a succession of Saudi bosses, is a blow. email@example.com