Muscat: Oman's national football team coached by Frenchman Le Guen will leave for Bahrain tomorrow to kick start their 21st Gulf Cup 2013 campaign, which will be held in Manama from January 5 to 18.
As per the draw for the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations in Bahrain, Oman is grouped with the hosts, Qatar and UAE in Group A. The Red Warriors won their first Gulf Cup in front of their home crown in 2009, but Kuwait who have been a threat in all the Gulf Cup competitions captured the title in the last edition in 2010.
The defending champions have been clubbed in Group B which features Saudi Arabia, Iraq
and Yemen. With the New Year just begun, Oman will be looking to a fast start in the competition, as the team begins its Gulf Cup march against Bahrain on January 5. Then Oman face Qatar on January 8 and finally the United Arab Emirates (UAE) three days later, on January 11.
Oman captain Ali Al Habsi, an inspirational player in the national side, is unlikely to play in this edition of the Gulf Cup due to injury despite talks which was held between coach Paul Le Guen and the chairman of OFA.
"We would like to announce that Ali Al Habsi would not be participating in the tournament due to an injury and the reluctancy of Wigan to release him. We have been in direct talks with Roberto Martinez and we have tried to convince the coach to relieve Ali Al Habsi so that he could be available for the forthcoming tournament. But he told us that Wigan could not risk him getting injured further," said coach Le Guen
"He has been a massive player for Oman and a loyal servant so we will definitely miss him and it is a big blow for us, but I have told the other players that they have to give their best so that we can do well in the tournament," said the French coach.
OFA chief Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi said they did everything to convince Wigan to release Ali Al Habsi for the national duty. "We have been in negotiations with Wigan for a long time. Though we knew it would be difficult for Ali to come, we tried till last minute. In fact, we have been in talks till a few minutes ago. We wanted a final answer and that unfortunately is a 'no'," he said.
Le Guen said his team can cope with Ali's absence. According to the Fifa rules, clubs are not bound to release players for national team duty, unless it is for Fifa-sanctioned matches or tournaments. The Gulf Cup is a premier regional tournament, but it falls outside the ambit of the Fifa's international calendar. Oman has faced the issue of Habsi's availability from Wigan duty a few times in the past as well.
"Habsi played a stellar role in Oman's maiden Gulf Cup victory in 2009 and also starred in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers last year," stressed coach Le Guen. "The two goalkeepers that I have Mazein Al Kaabi and Fayeezz Al Rusheidi have done well in Kuwait. Especially Mazen, who is my No.1 goalkeeper, has done extremely well and I have faith in him, so we have to be optimistic and play to our potential. We all know the tournament is going to be a tough one so we have to be up to the mark when we take on the hosts Bahrain in the opener," coach Le Guen commented.
Qasim Al Said is the missing name from the 23-member team announced by Le Guen and the coach had an explanation for that. "Qasim has been a wonderful player for Oman and he has performed very well in Kuwait and has scored for Oman on many occasions but only with the help of Yaqub, who has been instrumental in feeding Qasim so when it came to making the decision I opted for Yaqub and another point is that we cannot have two players playing in the same position. It makes no sense," opined Le Guen.
On OFA's extension of his contract, Le Guen said: "I must thank the OFA for extending my tenure until 2016 and I must say that I feel well and when I feel well I am happy."
Meanwhile, he disagreed that there is any pressure on him heading to Gulf Cup. "I do not feel any pr