MANAMA: Reigning champions Kuwait gave their title bid a morale boost on the second day of the 21st Gulf Cup football tournament.
The Kuwaitis survived an early scare from an improving Yemen as second-half goals from strikers Yousef Nasser and Bader Al Mutawa gave the 2009 cup holders a crucial start.
Played at the Khalifa Sports City Stadium in Isa Town, the first match in this four-team Group 'B' saw tournament minnows Yemen create several dangerous moves against one of the competition's main contenders.
Kuwait, who have a record title of 10 times, had a golden opportunity to go up after 11 minutes when they were awarded a penalty kick.
But Mutawa, one of Kuwait's best football strikers in many decades, watched his effort bravely denied by Yemen goalkeeper Sauod Abdulla.
The missed penalty came much to the relief of Yemen players, officials and thousands of supporters who flocked into the stadium.
It could have been even better for Yemen, who made their sixth successive appearance in the Gulf Cup since they joined the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2002, as they came close towards finding the back of the net.
Kameel Tareq came up with two precious scoring chances, both missing concentration, in space of 20 minutes.
First it was flying kick by Tareq inside the penalty area, but Kuwait's experienced goalkeeper Nawaf Al Khaldi flied to tip the ball over the bar.
Tareq wasted another golden opportunity just before half-time when a corner-kick by Yemen skipper Akram Al Worafi came of the far post towards his path, but the unmarked young striker was unable to capitalize from just six yards and with only the goalkeeper ahead.
Yemen, under their Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet, continued to impress early in the second-half as they made a few dangerous inroads.
And while Saintfiet boys were searching for their long-awaited goal, it was Kuwait who found the target after a well-organised effort in the 64th minute.
Fahad Awad finished off a long run on the left with a well-executed cross towards Nasser who rose up to head the ball past Yemen goalkeeper Abdulla, sending hundreds of Kuwaiti fans into celebrations.
Despite conceding a goal, the brave Yemenis maintained some composure and continued to fight.
However, Yemen showed some weakness in defence, which was again cracked by a Kuwaiti counter attack in the 82nd minute when Al Mutawa took advantage of a loose ball on the edge of the box to fire into the back of the net.
"The three points from Yemen were more important than performance,” said Kuwait coach Goran Tovazic after the match.
"The first match in any tournament is always difficult, specially if your team is a candidate to win the tournament.
"It is difficult to show strength in performance if you encounter a team that depends on closing spaces and continuously defending. Therefore, our players found some difficulties in the making inroads in the first-half of the game.
"We wasted a penalty kick which would have been enough to break the lines of the Yemeni team quite earlier. I asked the players to play high pace while the ball in possession in the second-half, which paid off well as we scored two goals.
"There is no doubt that our team missed so many chances, which is something that we have to work hard on before our next game with Iraq," Tovazic added.
Yemen's coach Tom said he was disappointed with the defeat.
"I was hoping to win my first match with Yemen in the Gulf Cup, but fortune was not by our side. But overall, I am satisfied with the performance of the players today, specially the first-half, where we excelled at both defensive and offensive, and wasted two chances through Kameel and Akram, one of which would have been enough to change our fortune.
He added: "In the second-half, we could not show cohesion and offer the same performance, but I am surprised the way we conceded two goals from defensive lapses. I pushed two strikers late on but the lack of our players experience played a major part in the final score.
"We will try to remedy the mistakes that have made in our next match against Saudi Arabia. And despite the limited time to have to prepare for this match, our team still have the chance for a positive outcome and qualify for the semi-finals," Tom added.