Asian Cup 2015: Kuwait look to past to inspire present
Kuwait are rightly considered outsiders in a Group A that features hosts Australia, star-studded South Korea and fellow minnows Oman.
The Middle-East outfit failed to qualify from their pool in the last edition of this tournament, but the combination of this Persian Gulf nation’s past and future may allow them to pull the rug out from under the favourites’ feet.
In 1980, Kuwait were crowned Asian Cup champions and more recently reached the quarter-finals in 2000, but since then have failed to make a significant impact in the continent’s premier international competition.
This could all be set to change in Australia, however. Kuwait have slowly and steadily been building a competitive side, illustrated by their impressive rankings in the Gulf Cup of Nations, where they were champions in 2010 and achieved a third-place finish in 2013.
However, Brazilian boss Jorvan Viera’s side recently suffered a severe setback in their preparations, having just been eliminated in the group stages of the 2014 competition after being thrashed 5-0 by Oman.
Just like pool A competitors Australia, the Blue have an intriguing mix of experience and youthful exuberance waiting to take to the field in Oceania.
Aziz Mashaan is the only player in coach Viera’s most recent squad to have been relatively successful in Europe. The 26-year-old has an impressive international record of eight goals in 21 caps, and once represented Czech club Pribram.
He is now on trial at Ligue 1 side Montpellier, and will be aiming to impress in Australia.
Considering Mashaan’s experience on the continent, he will be widely considered to be Kuwait’s main threat.
However, he is not necessarily the pick of the bunch. The Blue also possess a sprinkling of Asia and Middle East-based potential diamonds in the rough.
Young striker Saif Al Hashan, named most valuable player at the AFC Cup for Kuwaiti Premier League club Quadsia, is certainly one to watch. After netting five in his first six caps, Al Hashan may be his country’s most potent weapon, with the potential to punish complacency amongst the big-guns.
Fellow attacking options Abdulhadul Khamis and Yousef Nasser will also be aiming to to be crowned their nation’s top prospect, and boast impressive strike rates for their country.
After losing all three of their games at the 2011 Asian Cup, conceding seven, defensive organisation will certainly be crucial if the minnows are to compete in this competitive pool.
In spite of Kuwaiti hopes for their fledgling forward threats, custodian Nawaf Al Khaldi could well be the country’s most important player.
The keeper, who has over 100 caps, will have to be at the top of his game if Kuwait are to complete the unlikely feat of shutting out the likes of Soceroos star Tim Cahill or South Korea forward Heung Min-Son.