Kuwait are not the force they once were, but at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium Wednesday, they rolled back their glory years with a stunning 3-1 win over Saudi Arabia in their Gulf Cup opener.
The ten-time champions, the most among eight teams, were clinical in front of the goal, with Ahmed al-Dhefiri and Sami al-Sanea giving them a two-goal advantage after the end of first half.
Mubarak al-Faneni then added the third in the 90th minute as Thamer Enad’s men made a sensational start to their campaign.
Saudi scored a consolation goal through Feras Tariq in effectively the last kick of the match, but it was a below-par show from Herve Renard’s side, who have their task cut out in the remaining two matches.
Three-time champions Saudi, billed as one of the tournament favourites, made a bright start and should have gone a goal up as early as in the 10th minute. Kuwait defender Fahad al-Ansari misplaced his back pass, which was quickly latched onto by Tariq, who then passed the ball to Yahya al-Sheri.
But the Saudi captain let go off a golden opportunity by shooting wide of the goal. They had another opening in the 34th minute, but Tariq could only hit the side net.
Saudi clearly had the upper hand in the match, but a lapse in concentration put them a goal behind. After a free kick from 45 yards was blocked by the Saudi wall, the ball landed into Kuwait’s Bader al-Mutawa, who played a clever through ball to al-Dhefiri. The midfielder then outsmarted Saudi defence with a quick run into the box and slotted it past goalkeeper Fawaz al-Qarni.
Saudi players had barely recovered from the opening setback when Kuwait doubled the lead in the injury time. Al-Mutawa was the provider again as the forward put in a brilliant assist to al-Sanea, who equally timed his run to perfection, ran towards the box and dribbled past al-Sheri and flicked the ball into an empty post.
A fight back was expected from Saudi in the second half, but they could not muster any decent chance. In fact, Kuwait had two great opportunities to put the game into bed, which they spurned.
But they were not to be denied the third goal. With Renard packing his players in front, substitute al-Faneni took advantage of the empty wide spaces, ran into the box and unleashed a right-footed strike into the net. Saudi pulled a goal back in the dying seconds, but the game was well beyond them at that point.
Saudi will next take on Bahrain on Saturday at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium, with the Green Falcons needing a victory to stay alive in the tournament. The high-flying Kuwait will face Oman, which is also scheduled for Saturday at the same stadium.(Gulf Times)