By Sports Reporter
Monday's clash between Oman and Bahrain is the oldest rivalry among this year’s Arab Cup competitors, with the two sides having faced each other 40 times previously. And the sparks are set to fly at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Umm Al Afaei as both the sides aim for their first win in the tournament and a place in the quarter-finals.
The gulf rivals have single point under their belt after one draw and one loss in the first two Group A games. Oman drew with Iraq 1-1 in the first match and later lost to hosts Qatar 2-1. Bahrain also lost to Qatar 1-0 and later played a goalless draw with Iraq.
With the stakes high – as both teams desperately look for a win – the encounter promises to be an enthralling one. A win for Iraq against Qatar, who are assured of top spot in the group – though will render Oman-Bahrain result inconsequential with Lions of Mesopotamia sealing their place in the last eight.
The history books show there is little between them, with Bahrain having won 12 of those games, just one more than Oman, and the remaining 17 meetings ending in draws. Bahrain’s last triumph over Oman came 11 years ago, at the 2010 West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Championship, when the experienced Ismaeel Abdullatif scored twice to guide his team to victory.
Ahead of the crucial game, Bahrain coach Hellio Sousa felt results of the first two games are not a true reflection of his side’s performance in the tournament. “Our performances in the two matches unfortunately do not reflect on the points table. We should have had more points. We have played well, but luck has not been on our side,” the Portuguese said yesterday.
The 52-year-old coach is hoping his tactics will work against Oman and the Gulf Cup champions will register their first win and make it to the quarter-finals. “We know the Oman team very well. They are a strong team and are always a difficult competitor and play in a good collective way. We have a plan against them, hopefully it will work for us tomorrow. We need to have confidence going into the match and then we can get three points. We hope that things will go in our favor, but we have to keep our focus,” he said.
Sousa also said he believes the rotation of players will be key for Bahrain. “Giving all players an opportunity is a positive thing. The rotation process I rely on shows all the players in the squad are ready to play. In the past we have rotated the players and it has given us remarkable success. There is no doubt that the rotation policy gives players more experience and keeps harmony in the dressing room.
Meanwhile, Oman coach Branko Ivankovic said he had full confidence in his players, but feels they need a bit of luck after two tough games. “Bahrain are the Gulf Cup champions, a strong and difficult team. They played very well against Qatar and Iraq and we expect a tough match. I have full confidence in my players. All we need is a bit of luck, especially since we’re conceding the goals at the last minute,” Ivankovic said.
Oman midfielder Salah al-Yahyai said his team is ready for Bahrain. “We are ready for the Bahrain match. I hope the fans will attend and support us, because they give us a strong motivation and we hope to get a positive result,” al-Yahyai said.
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