Come on Red Army! Oman stands with you
January 2, 2018 | 11:50 AM
by Gautam Viswanathan, [email protected]
At 6:15pm this evening, the Sultanate will cheer on 11 men of Oman's national football team as they tackle their semi-final opponents Bahrain. Photo: Oman FA

Muscat: Thousands of residents are headed to Kuwait today, as a huge Omani fan army makes its way to the Gulf Cup.

Homes and offices across the Sultanate may see some empty seats, especially if the national team can beat Bahrain and make it to the final on Friday. Return air tickets will be changed and many will stay for the rest of the week. Fans have been piling in to Muscat Airport since the early hours of this morning, prompting airlines and the Royal Oman Police to advise arriving earlier than planned, given the Omani Army surge.

At 6:15pm this evening, the Sultanate will cheer on 11 men of Oman's national football team as they tackle their semi-final opponents Bahrain. By 8:30pm, supporters in Kuwait for the match will hopefully be ripping up return air tickets as Oman will be heading to the final.

When Oman’s fixtures for this year’s Gulf Cup were revealed, everyone was more than a little nervous: a group with hosts Kuwait, 10-time champions, the UAE and Saudi Arabia – who, by the way – have qualified for this year’s World Cup – was going to be a tall order for the Sultanate. Would they be able to defy expectations?

Turns out they would.

There were many who thought that Ali Mabkhout’s penalty would’ve set a trend. If the UAE could defeat Oman, surely, there would be others who could as well?

Well, there might be, but they are yet to turn up at the Gulf Cup. Oman showed plenty of grit and determination in overcoming the hosts, keen to erase the mistakes of their opener. Their veteran midfielder Ahmed Mubarak may have been at fault for Mabkhout’s goal, but he showed no nerves against Kuwait, calmly dispatching the penalty that put Oman back on track.

Kuwait were, though, the far lesser of the two hurdles that Oman would need to face: their team had been banned from international FIFA competitions since 2015, a suspension that had been lifted only just before they’d been awarded the rights to host Gulf Cup, in the wake of several Arab nations refusing to travel to original hosts Qatar.

Saudi Arabia had other designs in mind: their choice to not field the strongest team at their disposal may have raised a few eyebrows, but their former Chile national team coach and ex-Barcelona striker Juan Antonio Pizzi was using the Gulf Cup to see which players were worthy of joining Saudi’s best on the plane to Russia in June.

Advantage Oman, then, as the Sultanate put paid to any plans Pizzi would’ve had of testing his team’s mettle. Said Salim’s look as he scored the second of his two goals said it all, his emotions reflecting the hopes and dreams of a nation.

Oman can now hope for glory and dare to dream once again: not since 2009, when the legendary Ali Al Habsi kept Saudi firepower at bay when the tournament came to Muscat has the Sultanate believed they can go all the way. National team coach Pim Verbeek may be preaching pragmatism, but there is endless optimism among residents in the Sultanate, who have always shown unconditional love and support for the men in red, wherever they may come from.

Oman’s faithful fans are boarding aircraft to cheer their team on in Kuwait. They do have return tickets booked, but should Oman beat Bahrain and make it to the finals, you can be sure there’ll be a good number of them staying behind to watch their beloved Sultanate stride out with pride and determination to contest the final on the 5th of January.

There may be more than a few empty seats in homes and offices in Muscat and Oman’s other cities, but it’s worth it, when it comes to the beautiful game. Oman have undergone plenty of trial and tribulation, and as the whistle blows on the pitch at 6:15 this evening, Oman will know that what they’ve done to get here will give them the drive and desire to go all the way.

After all, nothing that’s ever easy is worth doing.

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