ABU DHABI, UAE, Thursday evening will see the eyes of the footballing world settle on the Zayed Sports City Stadium as Saudi Arabia face off against Qatar to determine who will top Group E in the Asian Cup. However, the contest will be no ordinary game as the political standoff between the two countries adds a new dimension to the matchup between the Gulf Rivals.
On the pitch, both sides have quickly taken to the Asian Cup. With both Saudi Arabia and Qatar having perfect records from the tournament and have yet to concede a goal.
Saudi have clicked into gear under Juan Antonio Pizzi, and have shown in their opening victories over North Korea and Lebanon that they have the technical quality and an eye for goal which stands them outs as potential winners of the tournament.
The last time the Green Falcons lifted the Asian Cup was at the 1996 edition of the tournament held in the UAE, and the omens are certainly there for a repeat. It’s no secret that Pizzi had issues trying to find an appropriate striker for his system and for now, it seems that Al Ittihad striker Fahad Al-Muwallad seems to be the solution.
The 24-year-old striker has two goals in two appearances in the tournament, and his fierce half-volley against Lebanon showed how he could potentially cause problems for the Qatar backline, who have yet to be truly tested so far.
As for Qatar, they head into the showdown in Abu Dhabi in high spirits after booking their place in the round of sixteen with a record 6-0 win over North Korea. Al Annabi stuck to their principles in Al Ain, comfortably outplaying their opponents in a game in which 22-year-old Almoez Ali bagged a Super Hat-trick for his four-goal haul.
Head coach Felix Sanchez called for calm from his young side ahead of the tournament when asked about the prospect of playing Saudi Arabia and had insisted that his impressionable squad had been sheltered from the political element of the game.
Source: Qatar Olympic Committee