Omar Abdulrahman missed from the spot in the final minute of normal time, then again in the shoot-out.
One kick from a third Gulf Cup of Nations crown, and later granted a reprieve, in the end his double dismay denied the UAE the trophy. Oman were the victors, standing firm in the lottery that concluded the final in Kuwait City on Friday, that concluded the tournament. All that effort and it came down to 12 yards.
It came down to mettle, too, gold-plated. Oman displayed it and more, converting every one of their five. Abdulrahman was the only anomaly in UAE white, but it was enough. The poster boy of Emirati football had come unstuck once more.
Abdulrahman departed the pitch at the teeming Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium immediately after the penalties, consoled by teammates and opponents as he trudged off. There were no words to soothe, no comeback he could muster.
Oman had a second regional crown and first since 2009, avenging their 2007 final defeat to the UAE in the cruelest way possible. To their credit, they had been dogged and disciplined throughout the match, dangerous as well.
However, the final would ultimately hinge on Abdulrahman. In the last minute, with the showpiece goalless and headed for extra time, his tame penalty was saved by Oman’s Faiz Al Rushaidi, low to his right. In the shoot-out, Abdulrahman went last for the UAE and elected to go the other way, but so too did Al Rushaidi.
And that was it: the UAE lost out on the title; Alberto Zaccheroni, less than three months into his tenure, could not seal his perfect start.
Oman had their perfect ending. Mohsin Al Khaldi swept home the fifth of their perfect penalties, and the thousands of Omanis celebrated wildly. It was some finish.
They had started well too. The UAE, having got there without scoring a goal in open play, appeared tense and at times too timid. Clearly, the rivals noticed the nerves. Quick to the ball and to the tackle, they pressed the UAE whenever out of possession and created openings when they had it.
At one point in the first half, Khalid Al Hajri seized on a moment of carelessness from Ismail Ahmed, but his shot from range skidded wide. Right on half time, Al Khaldi curled his effort beyond goalkeeper Khalid Essa’s left-hand post. Having found himself free on the edge of the box, the Omani might have done better.
Saad Al Mukhaini could have done soon after the break. Advancing from right-back, the defender swept past two UAE defenders, but fired high and wide from an increasingly acute angle. Then, at the other end, Abdulrahman rose to meet a return pass from Mabkhout to head inches wide. He sank to his knees and covered his face in anguish. Worse was yet to come.
Essa was called into action again not long after, saving Al Khaldi’s free header low by his post. On 62 minutes, winger Jameel Al Yahmadi flashed his shot across goal. For a second, he appeared set to give Oman the lead. Still, the UAE survived.
Thirteen minutes from time, they thought they should have had a penalty. Abdulrahman crossed for Mabkhout, who came together with his marker and fell over as he sought to take a touch. It was unclear if there was any real contact.
Essa had to then be sharp twice, while Oman were thankful to centre-back Fahmi Durbin for poking away the ball following a mix up in his defence. Had he not intervened, Mabkhout would have tapped home.
Then Abdulrahman missed his first from the spot. Once more, Mabkhout was involved, yet there was only the faintest of touches from Mohammed Al Musalami before the forward went down. It was a dubious award. Abdulrahman stepped up, but his idea was telegraphed and Al Rushaidi saved. The clock ticked over to 90 minutes.
In extra time, Essa saved well from Al Khaldi’s free kick, substitute Ismail Al Hammadi shot into Al Rushaidi’s side-netting and Mabkhout was stopped in his tracks when through on goal.
It was left to penalties and, ultimately, to Abdulrahman. He failed for a second time, and that was that.