Dozens injured in platform collapse during Gulf Cup final in Kuwait
MUSCAT – Oman ended a brutal extra time Gulf Cup final against the United Arab Emirates on Friday in Kuwait by winning a penalty shootout 5-4 after a game with many chances but no goals.
The dramatic game was marred when an elevated platform in the Sheikh Jaber al Ahmad Stadium in Kuwait City collapsed, injuring 40 people, reports said.
The barrier at the stadium broke as fans from Oman pressed against the glass during celebrations, said Associated Press. A number of those injured were treated in hospital.
Oman predominated during the match but after a goalless 90 minutes it ended with a nerve-shredding shootout when Emirates top player Omar Abdulrahman missed his second penalty of the match to send the white team out.
The two Gulf teams faced off in the 23rd Gulf Cup with thousands of hopeful fans heading to Kuwait to watch the final of the biannual tournament.
Oman was the relative outsider in the final, having last won the competition in 2009. The UAE were winners in 2013 in the Bahrain final, and before that in 2007.
Oman’s goalkeeper Faiz al-Rusheidi saved a controversial penalty taken in the 89th minute by Abdulrahman, preventing a repeat of an earlier group game when the UAE scored a one-goal win on a penalty.
The competition was scheduled to take place in Qatar but due to the Gulf dispute, with Saudi, UAE and Bahrain blockading Qatar over alleged support for extremism, the government in Doha agreed to move the event to Kuwait. The decision in early December gave Kuwait little time to prepare to host the finals.
Oman’s sports ministry and air force put on eight free flights to get fans to the match in Kuwait city.
Omani fans chanted in front of public screens in the capital Muscat as the minutes counted down at the end of full time and into extra time.
In Azaiba, Khalil al-Hedaifi, who was watching with a group of friends, said: “I think from the second match Oman played we knew they were going to make it to the final and they were gonna win.
“We qualified number one in the group and that is the mark that said the cup is for us.”
Malik Balushi, also watching, broke away from whooping, singing and dancing to say: “I feel great, I feel incredible. Tonight’s game was intensive. It’s about pride... .
“The penalties were a tough moment but they made me and the whole of Oman happy. Even expats who live in Oman are happy tonight.”
In Qatar, Oman's victory led to major celebrations as people took to the streets to salute the winner.
The Gulf Cup tournament is a moment of coming together after months of division with the Saudi and UAE blockading Qatar over alleged support for extremism. Qatar denies the claims.
"For all the countries in the Gulf, because of what is happening, everyone doesn't want the other countries to win. Politically, the safest team to win is Oman because they are not against anyone, everyone will celebrate," said Hilal al-Hasni, a hospital doctor from Muscat.
Translation: Congratulations to the Sultanate of Oman, the sultan and the people of Oman for the winning of the 23rd Gulf Cup, the players of Oman did well and the emotions of what we've seen from our brothers in Oman and their love, the days will not add to this except more good feelings. The cup is for Oman, but the happiness for both of us.
The Gulf Cup was originally scheduled to take place in Kuwait, but that country's football association was suspended by FIFA in October 2015 over alleged government meddling in sports, the Khaleej Times reported.
It was then switched to Qatar, before the Gulf crisis and the imposition of an air and land blockade by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain in June. Last month FIFA lifted Kuwait's suspension to enable it to host the event.
“Oman are not the favourites, so they have nothing to lose and there will not be nerves from them at all,” Chuck Martini, head coach of the Muscat Football Academy and former Leicester City and Morocco international goalkeeper, said ahead of the finals.
The tournament has gained in popularity since Al Jazeera began broadcasting it in 2004.
Kuwait have won the competition 10 times, the last time in 2010, and were favourite to win but were knocked out by Oman in the first round. Oman also knocked out Saudi Arabia in a later stage of the tournament.
Saudi Arabia have taken the trophy on three occasions, as have Qatar and Iraq.