Socceroos' rivals in ominous form at Gulf Cup

For the second time in a month on Wednesday evening, following Western Sydney Wanderers' win over Al-Hilal in the Asian Champions League, Riyadh's King Fahd International Stadium was quiet as a visiting team lifted the trophy.

The 2004 Gulf Cup of Nations, West Asia's biennial bash, took some time to get going but it really came alive at the semi-final stage. 

It ended with Qatar defeating host Saudi Arabia 2-1. It leaves the 2022 World Cup host in great spirits heading into January's AFC Asian Cup. 

Qualification was smooth, preparation has been excellent - including a 1-0 friendly win over the Socceroos in Doha five weeks ago - and now it is all about the next few weeks. Despite the defeat, Saudi Arabia can say something similar.

In total, seven out of the eight participants are heading to Australia in the next few weeks - with only Yemen left behind. The regional minnow, win-less in almost two decades in this tournament, will still be all smiles in January after finishing above the hapless Bahrain in Group A. 

The men from Manama have serious problems and the most pressing is to find a replacement for Adnan Hamad, the Desert Fox fired before it was even all over.

Iraq was the other major disappointment and also finished the tournament coach-less. The talented 2007 winner lacked creativity going forward. 

UAE ended Iraqi hopes of the knockout stage before losing a semi-final thriller to Saudi Arabia. 

Still, the holder did enough to show its regional power status with Ali Mabkhout scoring five goals, including a spectacular strike against Iraq, though there are worries over the fitness of star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman.

While the midfield maestro is certainly worth watching, for Australian and South Korean fans the exploits of Kuwait and Oman were of particular interest. 

There's good news and bad news. It is not going to be as easy as some may think, getting through Group A should ensure that the top two are in fine fettle for the knockout stage.

Oman had a good tournament and could have reached the final, perhaps should, after leading an injury hit Qatar in the semi.

Paul Le Guen has been leading his team through some interesting preparation games. Many West Asian sides prefer to stay close to home and play familiar opposition but in September, the men from Muscat were losing 2-0 to Ireland in Dublin, a result that looks better following the United States' 4-1 defeat recently. 

A 4-3 loss to Costa Rica was encouraging and there was no disgrace in losing 3-0 to a Uruguay team that welcomed back Luis Suarez.

Most impressive was the 5-0 demolition of Kuwait in the final group game. Oman had been hit by withdrawals prior to the tournament and lost veteran striker Amad Al Hosni but then came Said Salim.

The Al Nahda man made his debut in the opening goalless draw with the UAE. Coming off the bench just before half-time against Kuwait, he had a hat-trick by the hour though was helped by some poor defending. 

Australia knows that Oman play tidy football. That has remained in the Gulf Cup but in Riyadh there was a more direct approach. This may not work in January as Le Guen admitted, lamenting the lack of physical presence in attack.

That thrashing ended Kuwaiti hopes of a place in the last four but it was not all bad. It started with a disciplined 1-0 win over Iraq. Then came a 2-2 draw with holders UAE, when they bounced back from falling two goals behind to level the scoreline before the break. That was all due to veteran attacker Bader Al Mutawa, playing slightly deeper these days, but still able to pop up with a goal. 

Kuwait tightened up and stopped UAE's talented attack.

That was the plan in the final group game against Oman when a draw would have been enough for a semi-final spot. Three goals in four minutes as the defence was caught napping and there was no way back.

Coach Jorvan Vieira's position is under threat but the Brazilian stays for now. He led Iraq to the 2007 title and knows how to upset the Asian Cup apple-cart. He, and Kuwait, will be looking to do the same against Australia on January 9.