Everything you need to know about the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations
Manager: Juan Ramon Lopez Caro. The former Real Madrid and Spain Under 21 coach has seen mixed results since taking over following the exit of Frank Rijkaard, after a disappointing show at the last Gulf Cup. This tournament could decide his future with the team.
Key player: Salem Al Dawsari. One of the most exciting youngsters in Saudi football, the midfielder, 23, is touted to play in one of the top leagues in Europe. Scouts will be keeping an eye out for Al Dawsari in Riyadh.
Best finish: Champions, 1994, 2002, 2003.
Last time out: Group stages. After a 2-0 loss to Iraq and a 2-0 win over Yemen the lost a winner-qualifies match 1-0 to Kuwait.
Prospects for 2014: As hosts they will start as favourites and fans will settle for nothing less than victory. Carrying that burden of expectations will be a challenge, though reaching the knockout stages should not be such a big ask.
Manager: Djamel Belmadi. Winner of two Qatari league titles with Lekhwiya, the former Algeria international has done well since being promoted to the national-team job in March. He has just one loss, to Peru, in eight matches.
Key player: Boualem Khoukhi. The star of Qatar’s triumph at the 2014 West Asian Championships with six goals, the naturalised Algerian has been hailed by the Qatar FA as one of their key men for the future.
Best finish: Champions, 1992, 2004.
Last time out: Group stages. Drubbed 3-1 by UAE in their opener after taking an early lead, Qatar failed to recover and finished third in the group with one win and two defeats.
Prospects for 2014: The opener against hosts Saudi Arabia could decide their destiny. The team have some impressive wins this year, but the absence of the injured Asian Player of the Year nominee Khalfan Ibrahim and goalscorer Sebastian Soria will hurt.
Manager: Adnan Hamad. Unable to get an extension at UAE side Baniyas, the Iraqi has done well since taking charge in Bahrain. He is undefeated in five matches and recent draws against Uzbekistan, Iraq and North Korea should boost confidence.
Key player: Mohammed Hussain. In Bahrain’s past 14 matches they have conceded only four goals and most of the credit for that defensive performance should go to their captain, 34.
Best finish: Second in 1970, 1982, 1992, 2003.
Last time out: Fourth. Hosts Bahrain were expected to bring their wait for a title to an end. But they were lucky to make the knockouts and then lost to Iraq on penalties in the semis.
Prospects for 2014: Bahrain boast the best defence in the competition, but their strikers let the team down. However, four goals in their past two matches, is more than they have scored in their nine previous – a good sign. They are dark horses.
Manager: Miroslav Soukup. A former coach of the Czech Republic and Egypt youth teams, Soukup has managed some decent results with Yemen since taking the job in May, holding Indonesia, Iraq and Kuwait to draws.
Key player: Ayman Al Hagri. The attacking midfielder, 22, is one of the rare Yemeni football players to have played abroad, in the Oman and Bahrain leagues. He was injured in Friday’s friendly against Oman, but has been included in the squad and that underscores his importance to the team.
Best finish: Group stages.
Last time out: For the third consecutive year, Yemen finished the tournament without a point, losing all three matches by a 2-0 score.
Prospects for 2014: Ranked 178 by Fifa, Yemen’s aim is to get their first win in their seventh Gulf Cup. They are unlikely to achieve that target in Riyadh.
United Arab Emirates
Manager: Mahdi Ali. One of only two managers coaching his own national team in Saudi, the Emirati has turned around UAE football. He has the ability to bring out the best from his players and defending the Gulf Cup title would be another feather in his cap.
Key player: Ahmed Khalil. While Omar Abdulrahman is the UAE’s brightest star, the team’s fortunes are often tied to Khalil’s form. The Al Ahli striker has just ended a drought with three goals against Lebanon, which is promising.
Best finish: Champions, 2007, 2013.
Last time out: Champions. After dominating the group, Khalil scored the winner a minute from time in the semi with Kuwait. Ismail Al Hammadi did the same in the 107th minute of the final against Iraq.
Prospects for 2014: They are joint-favourites alongside hosts Saudi Arabia, but it is not an easy group. A good start against Oman is essential. The bigger target for Mahdi Ali is the Asian Cup.
Manager: Paul Le Guen. In charge of the Oman team since 2011, the former Glasgow Rangers and PSG manager returned from the last Gulf Cup with only a single point. The Frenchman will be hoping for a better finish this time.
Key player: Ali Al Habsi. Absent from the last Gulf Cup because his club, Wigan Athletic, refused to give him leave, Al Habsi, who now plays for English Championship side Brighton, is back to lead the team.
Best finish: Champions, 2009.
Last time out: Group stages. Starting their campaign with a goalless draw against hosts Bahrain, Oman went downhill from there, losing 2-1 to Qatar and 2-0 to the UAE.
Prospects for 2014: The return of Al Habsi is a boost, but striker Emad Al Hosni has a hamstring injury and could miss the tournament, which would be a huge setback. An early exit looms.
Manager: Hakeem Shaker. The Iraqi Shaker is to his country what Mahdi Ali is to the UAE. He has a string of achievements on his CV but has never won a final, finishing runner-up three times.
Key player: Ahmed Yasin. Featured in the International Federation of Football History and Statistics’ 2012 list of the world’s most popular active football players, the only Iraqi to make the grade, Yasin, who plays in the Swedish league, has a lot riding on his shoulders.
Best finish: Champions, 1979, 1984, 1988.
Last time out: Runners-up. Finished top of their group with three wins and broke the hearts of Bahrain fans in the semis. They had their chances in the final before Al Hammadi’s late winner.
Prospects for 2014: A training camp in Bahrain was cancelled at the last minute but they are used to adversity and have a strong chance of making the final.
Manager: Jorvan Vieira. Winner of the 2007 Asian Cup with Iraq, the Brazilian has been criticised by Kuwaiti fans in recent days for saying the Gulf Cup was only a preparation for his team ahead of the Asian Cup. Will be a marked man should the team fail to make the knockout stages.
Key player: Aziz Mashaan. The attacking midfielder, 26, has played for a few clubs in Europe, including FK Pribram in the Czech Republic. Was on trial at the French club Montpellier earlier this summer before returning home to Al Qadsia.
Best finish: Champions, 10 times
Last time out: Third. Second in Group B, the Kuwaitis lost in the semis to the UAE 1-0. In the play-off for third, they embarrassed hosts Bahrain 6-1.
Prospects for 2014: Held 1-1 by Yemen in a friendly last week, the team have received plenty of cricitism back home and 10 players reportedly are on the treatment table. But the 10-time champions can never be ruled out.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Humam Tariq (Iraq)
One of the most-talked-about young talents from this part of the world, the Iraqi teenager could be a star of the tournament. Blessed with great skills, Tariq boasts extraordinary vision for an 18-year-old as well as a remarkable ability to transition from defence to attack. He showed glimpses of his potential at the past Gulf Cup, in Bahrain, and should cement his reputation further in Riyadh. Tariq’s talents have been noticed by European scouts; Scottish champions Celtic made an official offer during the summer for the attacking midfielder, but Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ahli, who have loaned him to AGL side Al Dhafra, turned it down. Clubs like Lille, Malmo and Besiktas previously expressed interest. This Gulf Cup, and the Asian Cup in January, could see Ahli receive more enquiries for their Iraqi star, who made his international debut at 16. He is the youngest player to wear the Iraq jersey.
Naif Hazazi (Saudi Arabia)
Nicknamed Al Saqr (The Falcon), Hazazi is one of the biggest stars in Saudi football today, with a flock of adoring fans around the Kingdom. Sharp inside the box, he is lethal with his headers as well, a quality that sets him apart in this part of the world. Winner of two league and two cup titles at Al Ittihad, the 25-year-old has made an impressive start to the season with seven goals from nine matches for Al Shabab and Saudi fans will be hoping he can carry on in the same vein. With Saudi Arabia playing all their group matches on Shabab’s home turf, the King Fahd Stadium, Hazazi, voted the most popular football player in Riyadh, will be in familiar territory with his legion of fans cheering him on. With Nasser Al Shamrani playing alongside Hazazi, the hosts boast the tournament’s most lethal strike force and the duo could carry them to the title.
Abdulgadir Ilyas (Qatar)
With Khalfan Ibrahim and Sebastian Soria ruled out of the tournament due to injuries, Ilyas has received a late call up to the squad and he was among the scorers in the 3-1 win over North Korea last week. Ilyas has been in good form for his club Umm Salal as well, scoring six goals in four appearances, including a hat-trick against Shahhaniya. Born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Ilyas’ footballing talents were undiscovered until he moved to Qatar in 2008 and attended the Al Jaish training camp. The coach, Mohammed Al Ammari, immediately saw his potential and since then, his star has been on the rise. Ilyas made his international debut in June last year and has made 12 appearances for Qatar since, scoring six goals. As the 24-year-old returns to his country of birth, Ilyas will surely be looking to cement his place in the national squad with the Asian Cup ahead.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
Goals scored in 330 matches, at a rate of 2.53 per match. Five teams have scored 100 or more: Kuwait (190), Saudi Arabia (146), Qatar (113), Bahrain (107) and the UAE (104).
Iraqi legend Hussein Saeed scored 10 goals in six matches to lead Iraq to the title in 1979. It is still a record for a single tournament, with Kuwait’s Jasem Yaqoub (nine in 1976) and Jasem Al Huwaidi (nine in 1998) in joint second.
Kuwait’s Jasem Yaqoub is the top goal scorer in all Cups with 18, one more than Iraq’s Hussein Saeed and Saudi Arabia’s Majed Abdullah. Jasem Al Huwaidi and Abdullah share the single-match
The 1972 edition of the Gulf Cup featured 25 goals in six matches, an average of 4.17 per game. Kuwait (14) and Saudi Arabia (10) accounted for most them. The UAE scored one.
Iraq have the most goals per match with 95 goals in 50 matches across 10 tournaments. Iraq have also conceded the fewest number of goals (48) and have lost the fewest number of matches (10).
The number of goals Oman have conceded in 91 matches, which is the most for any team; they have scored 70. Oman, the 2009 champions, also lead the table for matches lost with 57.
Fahad Khamees is the leading goal-scorer for the UAE in Gulf Cups with 10 goals, followed by Adnan Al Talyani on 9. Ismail Matar and Zuhair Bakheet are third with six goals apiece.
The UAE’s winning percentage. They have played 98 matches across 20 tournaments, going 37-39-22. The Whites have scored 104 goals and conceded 131.
The number of points Yemen have managed from 21 matches across six tournaments. They have yet to win a game and have lost 18. The Gulf Cup minnows have conceded 55 goals and scored nine.
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Updated: November 12, 2014 04:00 AM