MUSCAT // Hassan Rabia scored a spectacular hat-trick as the hosts got their search for an elusive Gulf Cup title up and running in style - but they also had keeper Ali al Habsi to thank for a game-changing penalty save. With Oman 1-0 up in the first half, al Habsi dove to his right to keep out Hawa Mulla Mohammed's 30th-minute spot-kick, sending a capacity 26,000 stadium wild at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex.
Iraq then imploded, losing a man and three more goals as Rabia ran riot. Al Habsi had saved Oman with some fine saves in their opening game of the tournament, a 0-0 draw with Kuwait, but they came flying out of the blocks this time. When Claude Le Roy's men took the field, they had one thing in mind, and that was to attack from the onset. They raided the Iraq goal for the first 20 minutes until breaking the deadlock on the 24th minute.
It was Emad al Hosni who came closest to scoring with a stinging low drive that was well saved by Mohammed Kazim, diving to his right, in front of a crowded goalmouth. But the Iraq goalkeeper had no answer as Rabia tapped in from the front of the goal to complete a fine move that originated from a long ball by Khalifa Ail which was flicked on towards the goalmouth by Fawzi Bshir. Then came the most decisive moment when the Qatar referee Abdulla al Balushi pointed to the spot and gave Iraq the chance to come back in to the game, but Hawa Mulla's shot to the left of al Habsi was brilliantly.
Iraq's hope of staying in the game became more difficult when Jassim Mohammed Ghulam was sent off after being booked for the second time just before the break. Oman were unstoppable in the second half. They struck early, after 51 minutes, to double the lead with al Hosni heading home a cross from Hassan Yusuf. Rabia's second, on 65 minutes, was an absolute cracker. He took one touch on the edge of the box before unleashing a rocket into a top corner past Kazim to put the game to bed.
The Suwaiq forward then completed his hat trick after a one-two with substitute Hashim Saleh 10 minutes from time. Iraq's hopes just faded with their ten men just trying to keep the scoreline down. They had already started without five of the line-up that played against Bahrain, in their 3-1 opening loss. For Oman, it was a massive victory after being held to that disappointing scoreless result with Kuwait. Now they will be eyeing the semi-finals with glee and, on this performance, it will take some team to stop them.