KUWAIT CITY, Dec 20, (KUNA): Despite a short preparation period, Gulf Cup hosts and all-time champions Kuwait are hungry to win the illustrious football title for a record 11th time. Kuwait enter their first competition after a two-year competitive ban was lifted by football’s world governing body FIFA earlier this month.
Al-Azrag, led by Serb manager Boris Bunjak, have been undergoing extensive training over two periods a day, a senior team official told a news conference on Wednesday. “The players are ready to give their all in order to take the national team badge to the top of the podium for an 11th time,” said Fahad Awadh.
Kuwait SC winger Fahad Al-Enezi, who has won 43 caps for his country, said the mood was high in the dressing room, and the fact that the competition is being held on home soil will be a huge boost for the squad. The event’s opening match at Jaber International Stadium will witness a mouth-watering Group A encounter between the hosts and World Cup qualified nation and three-time Gulf Cup winner, Saudi Arabia.
Group A is arguably the tougher of the dual-group competition, which also includes the United Arab Emirates and Oman, while Group B comprises champions Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq and Yemen. All four Group A nations hold a total 16 cups amongst them over 22 competitions held thus far.
The national football teams of Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates arrived here on Tuesday to take part in the 23rd edition of the biennial Gulf Football Tournament. The teams of Bahrain, Qatar and Yemen will arrive tomorrow, Secretary- General of Kuwait Football Association Dr Mohammad Khalil told KUNA tonight. The stage is set for the event which will take place between December 22 until January 5, he added, affirming that the technical and administrative preparations are complete.
The 23rd Gulf Cup for Football, scheduled for Dec 22 until Jan 5, will continue the legacy of the prestigious tournament, which kicked off in the early 70s. In 1970, Bahrain was the venue of the first-ever Gulf Cup tournament with the four teams of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain taking part. Kuwait was crowned as champion. Saudi Arabia hosted the second tournament in 1972 with the participation of the five teams of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain. Again, the Kuwaitis were crowned as champions.
Two years forward, Kuwait hosted the tournament in 1974 with the participation of the six teams of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, and Oman. The teams were separated in two groups with Kuwait coming up on top again. The 1976 tournament saw the participation of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, Oman, and host Qatar. Kuwait dominated the tournament, winning it for the fourth time in a row. In 1979, the Kuwaiti dominance over the tournament was broken with Iraq winning the tournament it hosted. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, and Iraq took part in the competition.
The UAE hosted the sixth tournament in 1982 with the participation of seven countries. Kuwait came back and retained the title. Oman hosted the seventh tournament in 1984. The Iraqis returned home as champions. In 1986, Kuwait won the tournament, which was held in Bahrain. This was the Kuwaiti team’s sixth title. Saudi Arabia hosted the 1988 tournament. Iraq won the title for the third time. In 1990, Kuwait hosted the tournament and its team was crowned champion for the seventh time. Iraq withdrew from the competition. Qatar hosted the 1992 Gulf Cup.
The 11th edition of the tournament, which was missing the Iraqi team, and saw the host Qatar win the tournament for the very first time. The UAE hosted the 1994 Gulf Cup tournament with six teams participating. Saudi Arabia won the tournament for the first time since the tournament kicked off. The 13th edition of the tournament was held in Oman in 1996. Kuwait came back to the winners’ podium, clinching its eighth title. Bahrain hosted the tournament in 1998. Kuwait won the title for the ninth time.
In 2002, Saudi Arabia hosted the tournament and won the title for the second time. Kuwait’s 2003 tournament saw Saudi Arabia continuing to dominate, winning the trophy for the third time. The 2004 tournament held in Qatar saw eight teams partaking in the event. Qatar won the tournament for second time in its history. The UAE’s 18th edition of the championship in 2007 saw the host winning the title for the very first time. Oman hosted the 19th incarnation of the tournament and the host country won the title for the first time since the tournament was held.