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Gulf Cup of Nations 2014 – Players to Watch

The continuous rise in popularity of the Gulf Cup of Nations has been met with spectators in the form of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini. Played between 8 countries across the Middle East, it has grown into the most prestigious tournament in the region side by side with the Asian Cup and qualification for the World Cup.

The tournament is yet to be recognized by FIFA, but it was moved to be played in January – akin to the African Cup of Nations.

The tournament will be held in Saudi Arabia after political problems in Iraq materialized and dented Iraq’s hopes for hosting the tournament. The King Fahd Stadium and the Prince Faisal Stadium will be the two locations to host the 8 Gulf teams, who were drawn into two Groups of 4. The hosts – Saudi Arabia – along with the holders – the UAE – were the only countries that were seeded into the groups, while the other 6 nations were drawn based on their FIFA World Ranking.

Saudi Arabia will welcome Bahrain, Yemen and Qatar to the King Fahd International Stadium in Group A, while the UAE will be anticipating the challenge for a 3rd trophy, up against Kuwait, Iraq and Oman.

The weakest team in the tournament is by far Yemen, but the best nation in the Gulf part of the Middle East is a title that has been thrown around almost everywhere lately. Saudi Arabia can boast a great history: 3 Asian Cups, 4 appearances at the World Cup, runners-up at the Confederation Cup and much more. Qatar can boast about their rights to hold the 2022 World Cup, while Iraq have a plethora of talented players – young & old – and the UAE will be looking to show that their Gulf Cup win in 2013 was a springboard for success, here and in the 2015 Asian Cup in January.

Despite the lack of knowledge of players in this region to viewers elsewhere, the Middle East has often produced some tremendous talents who have best shown their abilities in this tournament.

Omar Abdulrahman | United Arab Emirates

Omar Abdulrahman Ahmad Alraqi Alamoodi, more commonly known as ‘Amoory’, is a very bright Emirati talent – capable of playing anywhere across the attacking midfield – of Yemeni descent and a Saudi background. Spotted by Al-Ain scout Sami Al-Jaber, he went on to become one of the best players in Al-Ain and in the UAE. Amoory is currently 23 and still plying his trade at Al-Ain where he continues to inspire young Arab footballers.

A great passer of the ball – not just sideways passing – but the ability to unlock defences in a David Silva or Andres Iniesta-esque way and possessing the flair and skill akin to European players, albeit playing in a league many levels down. The technique that the boy possesses is fantastic, but the big transfer needs to come soon – even if he doesn’t get as much game time, because he has to learn – and in 4 years time he’ll be 27, most probably in his prime.

These next 6 months are pivotal for his career – he can walk away with the Gulf Cup, the Asian Cup and the UAE Pro League, thus truly establishing himself as one of the top players in the region. All eyes in the Asian – and European – world will be casting their attention to this superb playmaker. Here’s a brief Scout Report on Omar Abdulrahman

Bader Al Mutawa | Kuwait

With work permits impeding the move of Bader Al Mutawa to Europe, the Kuwaiti veteran has stuck with his club Qadsia since 1994 (youth team, moved to the first team in 2002), only moving out on loan twice.

Malaga and Nottingham Forest were initially interested in Bader, but problems outside of football halted the unseen progress of a man who has bagged more goals than games played. 29 years old and reaching his twilight years, Bader will want to make an even bigger mark on Kuwaiti football and win the Gulf Cup once again.

Bader is a speedster, also possessing the ability to outsmart other defenders and goalkeepers with majestic flair and pinpoint finishing. 148 appearances for his national team (scoring 49 goals on the way) show his experience on the international scene, although none of those appearances have come at the biggest stage of international football.

Bader loves to round the keeper and showcases his skill on many occasions, while being a set piece taker who shoots from long range too. Unfortunately for him, he could have been plying his trade in Spain or England’s top flight, but he’s fresh of an AFC Cup (Asia’s Europa League) win with Qadsia. A veteran and a Kuwaiti legend, he will want to win the Gulf Cup once more before retiring.

Nayef Hazzazi | Saudi Arabia

The ability to jump and head the ball at 181cm is astounding, especially when you’re up against bigger and stronger defenders. Nayef Hazzazi is 26, with 31 caps and 10 goals to his name.

Besides his heading ability, he has a great touch, and the decision making that he makes along with his fierce work rate puts him as one of the top strikers in Asian football. His header against Uruguay in the 91st minute sent the Saudi fans into shockwaves in a friendly last month.

Saudi Arabia have been underperforming for a few years now, and in the last Gulf Cup, they failed to get out of their group. They’ll be looking at Nayef’s heading ability to use as the antidote to KSA’s underachievement. The former powerhouses of Asian football’s philosophy is “high tempo football, filled with skills, but when you reach the final third, cross it to Nayef.”

Saudi Arabia have lacked a dependable goal-scorer since the days of Sami Al-Jaber and Yasser Al-Qahtani; with the Gulf Cup the perfect platform to propel himself to the same stardom enjoyed by the other two, Nayef Hazzazi may well be eager to pounce on the opportunity presenting itself.

Ali Adnan | Iraq

Ali Adnan, dubbed “Asia’s Gareth Bale” is a 20-year-old left-back having the ability to create and shoot from his position while possessing a fantastic burst of pace both on and off the ball.

He’s moved from 3 Iraqi clubs – most notably Baghdad FC – before landing in the Turkish Super Lig at Rizespor for only 525,000 British Pounds. Ali is in a league that does have a great deal of attacking players such as Demba Ba, Wesley Sneijder and Bruma, so there is hope that he may gain the experience at a young age. Rizespor are a mid-table team in the Turkish League, and are often faced up against sides and attacks of much superior quality to themselves, further adding the defensive pressure on Adnan.

His defensive capabilities are not the greatest and the comparisons to Gareth Bale derive from his naturally attacking instinct. Set pieces have also been a solid part of his game, having the ability to hit a few sweet strikes, so who knows if one day, he’ll move up to an attacking position?

Here’s a detailed Scout Report on Ali Adnan.

Humam Tariq | Iraq

Humam Tariq, Adnan’s team-mate in the Iraqi side, is a player who plies his trade in the UAE, on loan from Emirati Champions Al-Ahli at Al-Dhafra. Humam is 18 years old and a great finisher as well as being a top playmaker for his age in Asia.

The ability to see things before other players do, the ability to lead players, and also his ability to make decisions and anticipate situations is unseen at 18. Also an astute set piece taker, one will wonder how long it takes a player of Humam’s talent to be recognized in Europe.

Both Humam Tariq & Ali Adnan were part of Iraq’s U-20 squad that reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2013, topping their group which included the likes of Chile & England before falling short to the talented Uruguay squad on penalties.

It’s not the most memorable period in Gulf football, with the usual suspects facing poor form, disappointment and underachievement ( UAE remain the highest placed team in the FIFA Rankings to be participating in the 2014 edition of this tournament, at 65) but the Gulf Cup of Nations rarely disappoints in the football it produces, and more so, in the passion among the supporters.


Written by Hamoudi Fayad

Hamoudi Fayad

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