Saudi Arabia progressed to the final of the Gulf Cup following a gritty 1-0 win over Qatar on Thursday evening. The Green Falcons capitalized on an error from Saad Al Sheeb as Abdullah Al-Hamdan headed in an unlikely winner midway through the first half.
Qatar made a blistering start to the game, wing-back Pedro Miguel whipped in a cross into the path of Almoez Ali, yet the Duhail striker missed the opportunity with the goal at his mercy.
The Asian Champions were the aggressors in the early exchanges, getting plenty of joy from their attacking wing-backs. Abdulkarim Hassan caused havoc at times from left-back, a drilled a cross which was eventually gathered by Saudi keeper Fawaz Al-Qarni an early indicator.
Saudi registered their first chance of note with fifteen minutes on the clock. Firas Al-Buraikan found himself bearing down on the Qatar goal, but the teenage striker failed to convert from the tight angle and was foiled by the feet of Qatari stopper Saad Al Sheeb.
Sheeb would prove to be the key man in Qatar conceding against the run of play. A cross from Saudi defender Sultan Al-Ghanam was miss-handled by the Maroons keeper, and Hamdan was the main beneficiary, with the 20-year old heading in his second goal of the tournament.
Qatar ratcheted up the pressure, backed by rowdy home support. Pedro Miguel had two opportunities to help push his side into the lead. First cutting in from the right-wing to blaze a shot well over the bar, and in a near-identical move the Al Sadd defender cut inside but this time passed to Abdulaziz Hatem, which resulted in a tame shot saved by Fawaz Al-Qarni.
Qatar clicked into gear as the second half progressed, pushing Saudi for a leveller. A dipping corner from Abdulaziz Hatem had Fawaz Al-Qarni, but the arcing effort rebounded off the post and out of danger, although Boualem Khoukhi’s immediate snapshot did hit the side netting and had the vast majority of fans at the Al Janoub stadium on their feet. If only the ball had gone in.
Felix Sanchez elected to change the formation to a 4-2-3-1 in the final fifteen minutes looking for a leveller. Yet it was Saudi Arabia who cleverly shut down the Asian Champions by breaking up their rhythm with fouls and diligently nullifying the threat of Akram Afif and Almoez Ali.
Herve Renard had his side well drilled, switching to five at the back to close out the contest. Saudi hit the woodwork on a rare breakaway with seven minutes left in the contest, with substitute Turki Al-Ammar hammering a shot against the upright.
Qatar continued to push and perhaps missed their best chances to level in the final minutes, a cross was whipped into Akram Afif, but the Asian player of the year planted his header well over.
For all of Qatar’s dominance, it was the defensive performance of the Green Falcons, that won out. Much to the dismay of the partisan crowd at the Al Janoub stadium. Saudi Arabia will now take on Bahrain in the final, as for Qatar the game will prove to be an important learning curve for the side.