December 12 – Bahrain stunned favourites Saudi Arabia 1-0 to win their first-ever Arabian Gulf Cup in a matchup of two countries blockading the host nation, Qatar, whose emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani attended the final.
A 69th-minute goal from Saad al-Romaihi in the Championship match was enough for the Bahraini to prevail. In the semi-final Bahrain had defeated Iraq on penalties, but they were still the underdogs going into the final.
Saudi captain Salman Mohammed Alfaraj missed an 11th-minute penalty kick, hitting the top edge of the post. In a rematch of the group B fixture that Saudi Arabia had won 2-0, neither team managed to break the deadlock before half-time.
But midway into the second half Bahraini forward al-Romaihi tapped in a fine cross from midfielder Sayed Redha Isa Hashim to score the only goal of the game and hand Bahrain a historic maiden Gulf Cup win, a tournament that was first played in 1970.
In 2004, Bahrain had finished as runners up. In total, they have had to accept second spot four times, but in Doha they came good against the Saudis, who had eliminated the hosts in the semi-final in a passionate encounter.
Both finalists and the United Arab Emirates had initially intended to boycott the tournament as part of the Saudi-led block that has heightened tensions in the Gulf since 2017.
With two unpopular finalists, the final was shifted from the 40,000-capacity Khalifa International Stadium, the venue for the Club World Cup final, to the 12,000-seater Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium. Plenty of Bahraini fans attended the deciding match as eleven Gulf Air jets carrying Bahraini fans flew to Qatar from Bahrain, passing through Kuwait, in line with airspace restrictions.
Both the final and the semi-final, between Qatar and Saudia Arabia, passed off without major incidents, and overall the tournament did suggest relations are thawing between the feuding nations. Qatar’s foreign minister said on Friday that the Gulf diplomatic crisis had “moved from a stalemate to some progress”, following talks with Saudi Arabia and the attendance of Qatar’s emir was interpreted as another sign that the two-year blockade may slowly be resolved.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1600625305labto1600625305ofdlr1600625305owedi1600625305sni@o1600625305fni1600625305