Stronger show expected from Oman after qualifying for 2021 Arab Cup

Sports Monday 21/June/2021 19:11 PM
By: Times News Service
Stronger show expected from Oman after qualifying for 2021 Arab Cup
Oman have been placed in Group A, alongside hosts Qatar, and four-time winners Iraq.

Doha: Oman’s football team must put in stronger performances at the 2021 Arab Cup, now that they have secured qualification for the tournament, says head coach Branko Ivankovic.

“During the next stage of the tournament, we expect the players to be more prepared after the rest they now have,” he said.

“The most prominent issue we need to keep in mind is that our ambition is to not just participate at a tournament like this. We need to prepare for the tough matches that are ahead of us. Of course, however, the most important thing right now is the win we secured against the Somalis, and I am very happy with our performance, particularly during the first half.”

The 2021 Arab Cup is currently being held in the Qatari capital, Doha, and features 16 teams across four groups. The Arab teams that occupy the top nine global FIFA rankings are guaranteed automatic qualification to the tournament, while the 14 teams ranked below them enter the play-off rounds to book their places in the group stage.

Oman, as the top ranked side among those in the play-offs, was pitted against Somalia, who were placed lowest.

Mohsen Al Ghassani opened the scoring in the 12th minute after the Somali goalkeeper could only parry an initial effort, and Salah Al Yahyai made it 2-0 25 minutes later when Al Ghassani was felled in the box by the goalie, leaving the referee with little alternative but to award a penalty.

Somalia, however, started the second half strongly, and pulled a goal back when Abel Gigli Mohamed headed home following a cross from the left. Despite a strong finish from the African side, Oman held on for victory, becoming the second team to seal qualification after Sudan.

Before the tournament begins, coach Ivankovic is looking to iron out the nervousness his team displayed in the second half against Somalia, as other teams will be looking to punish their mistakes.

“Congratulations to the player on this deserved victory,” he said. “I think there were times during the match when we were afraid of what would happen if things did not go our way, but the most important thing is that we have achieved our victory. It is important that the players begin any game seriously, and this is what made us progress.

“Players need such tournaments,” he said, of Oman’s presence at the Arab Cup. “This will give them the opportunity to play strong opponents. The current pandemic has impacted the performance of the players. They tried to use their talents for all of the 90 minutes, but the circumstances did not allow them to do so.”

Dhofar midfielder Hareb Al Saadi, speaking to the press following the win, hoped Oman would perform well at the Arab Cup, and take their good form through to the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, having already made it to the 2023 Asian Cup.

“I think the fans have the right to criticise our team when we play poorly, and we undoubtedly understand their reasons for doing so,” he said.

“We assure them that the upcoming phase will be a positive one for us. We will focus our efforts on the Arab Cup, where hopefully, we can play the role of dark horses.”

Following their victory over Somalia, Oman have been placed in Group A, alongside hosts Qatar, and four-time winners Iraq.

The victor of the game between Bahrain and Kuwait will complete this group. The other teams in the tournament proper are Tunisia, the UAE, Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Egypt.

The other teams looking to play at this year’s Arab Cup are Jordan, South Sudan, Mauritania, Yemen, Lebanon, Djibouti, Palestine, and Comoros.