By Sports Reporter/ Doha
Head coach Felix Sanchez rued the missed opportunities that cost Qatar a place in the final of the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup, but was proud of the players for their effort. The hosts lost to Saudi Arabia 0-1 in the semi-final at the Al Janoub stadium on Thursday night, which crushed their hopes of a fourth Gulf Cup title.
Abdullah al-Hamdan’s 28th minute header turned out to be the winner for Saudis, who will face Bahrain in tomorrow’s final. Bahrain knocked out Iraq in the other semi-final, with the match decided on penalties after both sides were locked at 2-2 after extra time.
Qatar created as many as 21 opportunities to score and also dominated possession against Saudis but lacked the finishing touch, while luck also deserted them on couple of occasions. Sanchez, however, praised his players for playing their heart out in the tournament.
“You lose when you play bad, but I am quite proud of the players for the effort that they put in today,” the Spaniard said after the match.
“We couldn’t score as we lacked the punch inside the box. Congratulations to Saudi Arabia and best of luck to them for the final. We dominated the match, especially in the second half, but unfortunately couldn’t score and we were not accurate in the final touch. We must continue to work for the future,” he added.
After taking a one-goal lead, Saudi players dropped deep in the second half with the entire team guarding the goal. Sanchez refused to make that as an excuse for his side’s loss, stressing that his players should have found a way to score.
“They closed the spaces and defended with ten players in the second half. That was the way they decided to play. The players need to keep focus and need to play in these circumstances. We had many opportunities from all directions, but just couldn’t score. We played against a team that participated in the FIFA World Cup. We tried our best, but weren’t successful this time. At the end of the day we were not effective and we need to analyse the result,” the 43-year-old said.
Almoez Ali, the MVP in Qatar’s Asian Cup triumph earlier this year, had a below-par tournament with the striker finding the net just once — against Yemen — in four matches. But Sanchez did not believe in singling out any one player for the loss. “He (Almoez) was tightly marked by the Saudis that limited his effectiveness inside the box. But I am proud of him and other players and the effort they made,” he said.
Saudi coach Herve Renard conceded Qatar were the best team on the night, but said his team deserved victory for keeping the hosts at bay. “It was a very difficult match, and we were not the best team tonight. We really had to slog against Qatar, but deserved this victory,” the Frenchman said.
“We did what we had to on the field. We fought for 90 minutes with high spirit. But that doesn’t mean that Qatar was bad because they lost. On the contrary, we were very lucky. This is my maiden Gulf Cup. I’m happy that we’ve qualified for the final, but we’ve to focus on winning the title.
“Against Qatar, we played without two of our best players, Salman al-Faraj and Salem al-Dowsari. Imagine if Qatar played without Akram Afif and Almoez. They are the most prominent players. They controlled the game but we were organised, and Qatar missed opportunities. We hit the crossbar too,” he added.
Saudi had defeated Bahrain 2-0 in the group stage but Renard said that won’t count for anything, when the two sides clash in the final tomorrow. “We have great players and we beat Bahrain in the group match. But it will be a completely different match in the final. We have to start from the scratch,” he said.
While Saudi will be looking for their fourth Gulf Cup title – their first since 2003 – Bahrain will hope to finally end their drought, after having finished runners-up four times in the competition.
Bahrain will be the underdogs going into the title clash, but like they have shown in the tournament with victory over Kuwait and Iraq, they can cause an upset on their day.
“We are already making history as we have never made the finals of a two-group Gulf Cup. So it’s a big achievement for us. But we don’t want to stop here. We want to go far and we will try to win it against Saudi Arabia,” said Bahrain coach Helio Sousa.
“We came back from a goal down twice against Iraq and that shows the level of motivation and emotional balance our players have. We are the weakest team in the last four but this win shows that we are getting stronger each time,” he added.
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