x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Gulf Cup: Goran Tufegdzic and Kuwait ready to forget 2012 troubles

Kuwait team reinforced by the return of their Serbian coach, who has been sidelined after being shot over a dispute in his hometown.

Kuwait's coach Goran Tufegdzic is excited be back on the touchline. Kuwait's first match in the Gulf Cup will be against Yemen but the Serb is anticipating a battle with Saudi Arabia afterward as a highlight of the tournament.
Kuwait's coach Goran Tufegdzic is excited be back on the touchline. Kuwait's first match in the Gulf Cup will be against Yemen but the Serb is anticipating a battle with Saudi Arabia afterward as a highlight of the tournament.

Every time Kuwait have come to Bahrain for the Gulf Cup, they have returned home with the winner's trophy.

Three of Kuwait's 10 Gulf Cup triumphs have occurred in Bahrain - in 1970, 1986 and 1998 - but as the defending champions return to their favourite hunting ground, they are far from favourites.

Kuwait endured a disappointing 2012, when they were knocked out of the running for a place in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and, last month, as hosts and defending champions of the West Asian Football Championship, they failed to progress beyond the group stage of the tournament.

Before that, in August, the Kuwait players and fans received the shocking news of an attempt on the life of their national-team coach, Goran Tufegdzic.

The Serb was shot in his homeland by an 86-year-old neighbour over a property dispute and spent several days in intensive care.

Tufegdzic has recovered from the attack and is ready to defend the title he won in Yemen in 2010.

"I promise the Kuwaiti fans we will do our best to keep the title we won in 2010," he said.

"I have complete faith in my players to achieve the results we need.

"In the Gulf Cup, there are never any favourites and predictions never work, but we do fancy our chances and we will do our best."

Kuwait will face lightly regarded Yemen in their opening game on Sunday but it is their third and final group game, against Saudi Arabia on January 12, that Tufegdzic is most excited about.

"It is a big game, a Gulf derby," he said. "Besides, it is also a revenge match for us as they beat us the last time we played against them."

Kuwait have come to Bahrain from Abu Dhabi, where they were camping since December 22.

The team, however, did not play a single friendly game during their stay in the UAE capital and analysts have expressed their concerns about the team's readiness.

Sheikh Talal Fahad Al Sabah, chief of the Kuwait Football Association, conceded his team's lead-up to the Gulf Cup has been far from ideal.

"We send out invitations to many teams for playing a friendly match in Abu Dhabi, but could not reach an agreement because of high financial demands by some," he said.

"Some others were busy or already booked."

 

HAKEEM SHAKER HAS LIFTED IRAQI SPIRITS

If their 2007 Asian Cup triumph is any indication, Iraq seem to be at their best when fighting with their backs to the wall.

Six years ago, they brought joy to a war-ravaged nation by defeating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final of the continent's biggest tournament.

This time, it is a war from within that the striker and captain Younis Mahmood and his band have to overcome.

Iraq's preparations for the Gulf Cup have been in disarray, with manager Zico leaving in November over the non-payment of his salary. The Iraq Football Federation waited till last week to announce Hakeem Shaker as his successor.

At 92nd in the world, Iraq are still the highest-ranked team in the Gulf, but Zico's radical team selections, when he banished veterans like Mahmood, Qusay Muneer and Nashat Akram from the squad, had sent the team on a downwards spiral.

Shaker arrested that slide while serving as interim coach and took Iraq to the finals of the West Asian Championship in Kuwait last month. Noor Sabri, the Iraq goalkeeper, has already warned the team's "fighting spirit" will be their biggest weapon in Bahrain.

On the other side of the touchline, while the other seven teams in the competition consider themselves candidates for a championship, the Yemen coach Tom Saintfiet has set his side a modest target.

Yemen have been competing in the Gulf Cup since 2003, but they have yet to win a game. Saintfiet wants to end that wait in Bahrain.

Yemen have played 18 matches across five editions of the tournament and lost 15 of them, and their task will not be easier this time, placed in a group that includes Kuwait and Iraq, teams who have accounted for 16 of the 20 Gulf Cup titles.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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