The 2017 Gulf Cup of Nations final will see a repeat of the 2007 final when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) face Oman to determine the winner of the 23rd edition of the competition. The results came after Oman defeated Bahrain 1-0, and the UAE beat Iraq on penalties after a 0-0 draw in both regular and extra time.
The UAE’s progression has been an odd one; they have only scored 1 goal in this competition. Their only goal came from a penalty against (you guessed it) Oman, during the first matchday of the group stages. After their 1-0 win against Oman, they drew 0-0 with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait before doing the same against Iraq in the semi-finals, but winning on penalties this time.
The secret to the UAE’s defensive success has been in the new 3-4-2-1 formation that they don under their recently appointed Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni. This formation includes 2 defensive midfielders sitting in front of the 3 centre backs, alongside 2 wing backs on the flanks. In the front line sit two attacking midfielders/wingers behind the lone striker.
The second layer of protection provided by the midfielders is everything the UAE needs to account for their defenders’ individual shortcomings, such as Mohanad Salem who tends to get caught out of position or rash in tackling.
At the same time, this has played a part in their failure to dominate offensively. Times have changed, as after the UAE dominated offensively at the 2013 Gulf Cup and 2015 Asian Cup, they now lack ideas in an attacking line-up that includes 3 of the following players at the same time: Omar Abdulrahman, Ali Mabkhout, Ahmed Khalil, Ismail Al Hammadi and Mohammed Abdulrahman. This attack has only mustered a single goal; none from open play!
The reason for the offensive shortcomings have not necessarily been tactical, after all, the use of the three forwards in this way is rare in the Gulf and this can catch defenders out easily. It is more so the physical and psychological issues, with Ali Mabkhout returning from injury just recently and Ahmed Khalil sitting without a club after contractual issues with Al Jazira. All Omar Abdurlahman can do is slip through passes in and hope for his teammates to benefit from them.
This all leads to the final, which is expected to be an extremely boring one with both teams lacking any tactical brilliance in attack. Both are well-oiled sides defensively, but offer little in terms of creativity, and that’s worrying when you have Omar Abdulrahman in your side.