MUSCAT: The Red Warriors returned home to a muted reception on Friday night after going down gallantly to Iraq 2-3 in the final of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup at Basra International Stadium in Basra, Iraq, on Thursday.
The team was received at the Muscat International Airport by Sayyid Saeed al Busaidi, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, along with other senior ministry and Oman Football Association (OFA) officials.
The final score line 3-2 in favour of Iraq on Thursday certainly doesn’t provide the real picture of the dramatic and thrilling action on the night that was preceded by a stampede that left two Iraqi fans dead and scores injured.
Iraq defender Manaf Younis scored the winning goal two minutes into added time of extra-time after the teams were locked 1-1 at the end of regulation time.
Oman demonstrated amazing spirit to bounce back from being goal down on two occasions, first to force the game into extra-time and the second minutes before the end of extra-time.
The fighting spirit and grit of the Red Warriors in the summit clash truly symbolised the tag the team holds it proudly – Warriors.
Two-time champions Oman were attempting to claim their third title and could be proud of their display during the tournament under Croatian coach Branko Ivankovic.
In his post-match comments, Ivankovic was gracious in complimenting the hosts Iraq for the successful organisation of the tournament and for winning the title, the fourth overall, to go second in all-time titles after Kuwait’s ten.
Despite the narrow defeat in a five-goal thriller, the Croatian said: “I am proud of my players. They are a young group and the tournament was a good learning experience for them.
“Yes, we missed lifting the trophy, but the boys gave it all and the way they fought back to draw level twice exemplified the strong desire to win the title. The team is young and this defeat will be a good lesson for them ahead.”
The Croatian, who has been at the helm of Oman team for past three years, added: “Congratulations to Iraq on winning the title. It was a match filled with lot of drama in a packed stadium. The final was not going to be easy and both the teams exhibited a wonderful match and players deserve lot of praise. Iraq had luck on their side. This is football.”
He admitted that Iraq’s winning goal in the final minute of extra-time was a result of a defensive mistake. “My players tried not to be affected by the events [referring to stampede outside the stadium earlier in the day] ahead of the match but the team comprises young players,” he said.
“The most important thing for our team was gaining experience on the field and enjoying the experience of playing in front of such large crowds,” said Ivankovic.
Iraq coach Jesus Casas of Spain said that his team “didn’t play a good game but the players displayed strong heart and got us the win. I am happy that the title brought joy to the Iraqi people and the players’ families.
“When I took over as head coach, not many believed in this team. We worked together as a team and achieved success.”