DOHA: Kuwait coach Thamer Anad played down his team's chances in the Arabian Gulf Cup that kicked off in Qatar yesterday, as the Kuwaitis continue their return to international competition after long suspensions that have hurt sport in the country. Soccer's governing body FIFA in Dec 2017 lifted a suspension order on Kuwait that it imposed in 2015 over what it called government interference in the game.

In August, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lifted its separate ban on Kuwait after nearly four years. It had banned the country over a new sports law that it said interfered with the autonomy of the Olympic movement. "I think everyone knows the conditions of the Kuwaiti team, the four-year suspension, the Kuwaiti sports problems," Anad told a news conference ahead of Kuwait's opening Group B match against Saudi Arabia today.

"This certainly affected the sporting level of all the games, and even on the youth stages we saw a total absence of Kuwaiti teams for four years. After suspension, there has to be a rebuilding process of teams in all sports," said Anad, who took over in September following the dismissal of Croatian coach Romeo Jozak after defeat to Australia in the World Cup qualifiers. "Kuwait are not favorites because of problems and suspension, (but) we are able to return Kuwait to its position."

The country has won the competition a record ten times. It will face a weakened Saudi Arabia team playing without Al-Hilal players today after the club's Asian Champions League match in Japan on Sunday. Saudi Arabia said two weeks ago that it would join the regional tournament, having initially decided to skip its 24th edition, which is being held in Qatar. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed political, trade and transport ties with Qatar in mid-2017 over accusations that it supported terrorism. Doha denies the charge.

DOHA: Fireworks are seen above Khalifa International stadium ahead of the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Iraq in the Qatari capital yesterday. – AFP

The Saudi team were also hit by an injury to right-back Mohamed Al-Buraik incurred in Al-Hilal's 2-0 victory over Urawa Red Diamonds in the Asian final's second leg. Separately, Al-Ahly goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Owais withdrew from the squad after suffering a serious facial injury in a league match on Saturday.

"It doesn't matter if we have some problems at the moment, but we have to deal well with these games and this is the most important thing. After the first game we will see what we can expect," Saudi coach Herve Renard told reporters. "Most of the players played on Saturday and Sunday (in the league)… but this is football. (Al-Nassr defender Abdullah) Madu was also injured, but this is part of football and we have to deal with it even if we don't play with our best team". - Reuters