Asian champions Iraq were knocked out of the Gulf Cup in spectacular fashion as a pulsating atmosphere at Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex powered hosts Oman to a 4-0 win.
|Hassan Rabea Al-Hosni (left) bagged three goals [AFP]
Striker Hassan Rabea Al-Hosni fired a scorching hat-trick and namesake Emad Al-Hosni joined him on the scoresheet as Iraq suffered their third sending off in two matches.
Kuwait beat Bahrain 1-0 in the late group A match to leave Iraq the only team out of contention for the semi-finals.
Oman's English Premier League goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi saved a Hawar Mohammad penalty that would have levelled the score at 1-1 before the hosts completely dominated with an insatiable appetite for attack.
Coach Claude Le Roy had said that a different Oman would be on show from the team that drew tamely with Kuwait in the first match.
And the colourful hoardes who filled the 39,000-capacity stadium hours before kickoff got their reward as Oman looked a team transformed.
Rabea had missed a hatful of chances in that first match, but his three-goal haul in this dismantling of Iraq on Wednesday included a 25-yard strike straight from Samuel Eto'o's repertoire.
The first 20 minutes saw Iraq keeper Mohammad Kazim save a goalbound effort with his fingertips before the match sparked into life with an Oman opener that sent the crowd screaming mad with joy.
A long ball into the box was met by the Fawzi Dorbin, who headed down for striker Rabea to take a touch and slice past Kazim from a few yards out.
Just five minutes later, a dangerous break from Iraq saw the ball floated to the back post and seemingly headed wide by Iraqi playmaker Hawar.
|A happy man: Al Habsi [AFP]
But the referee saw an infringement from Khalifa Al-Nofli and pointed to the spot, sparking lengthy protests from the Omanis as the crowd chanted "Habsi, Habsi" in anticipation of star keeper Ali's heroics.
The optimism was not misplaced.
Hawar stepped up and stroked the ball to Al Habsi's left – but the Bolton Wanderers player leapt to turn it round the post.
Al Habsi roared his delight to the crowd, pumping both fists, before crashing chests with a relieved Al-Nofli.
Iraq had their chances after that, but Oman were stronger and more skilful all over the park, with only Hawar's trickery making any inroads for the visitors – ranked 24 Fifa places above Oman at 72.
Having been hamstrung by two sendings-off in their 3-1 defeat to Bahrain, they went into the break down to 10 once more as Jasim Gulam hacked down Emad Al-Hosni for a second yellow.
Just after half time, they paid the price.
Oman left back Hassan Al-Gilani had made several rampaging runs down the wing before he latched onto a loose ball and crossed for Ismail Al-Ajmi, who unselfishly played it back across goal for Emad to head home.
Staccato cries of "Oman" continued to pulse round the ground, with stands full of white dishdashas mingled with red Oman shirts making an impressive spectacle under the black sky.
Then, on 65 minutes, a wonderstrike.
Rabea took a short pass from Dorbin outside the box on the left, casually turned, and put his foot through the ball with Richter-scale power to send it booming into Kazim's top corner.
|Less than happy: Yunis Mahmood Kalef [AFP]
The striker rounded things up with 10 minutes to go, taking a reverse pass from Hashim Mohamad to claim his hat-trick and the man-of-the-match award.
After celebrating on the pitch, coach Le Roy hailed his side's "fantastic" performance.
And he said he had managed to relax his players by reminding them that, contrary to the words of legendary Liverpool coach Bill Shankly, football was not more important than life and death.
Only a game
"We must remember that football is a game," he said, referring to the conflict in Gaza.
"I say this all the time to my players. Not far from our country, people are suffering today.
"Before the match I tried to tell them to enjoy, to play with flair and forget the first game."
Few Le Roy press conferences pass without incident.
After showing remarkable restraint when the first question about the comprehensive win focused on chances missed, he then scolded a journalist for talking on his phone just after he had asked Le Roy a question.
He went on to praise Al Habsi, and said his team had respected Iraq for 90 minutes despite the scoreline.
"When you have a goalkeeper like Al Habsi you're always a better coach," Le Roy said.
"We also have four very good defenders and it won't be easy for any team to beat us. But it is only one game.
|Not too many empty seats down at Sultan Qaboos [AL JAZEERA]
"I want my players always to attack, attack.
"But we also respected the Iraq team and played very seriously right until the end. So I like both the performance and the behaviour of my players."
A stunning Mesaed Neda free kick made the difference as nine-times champions Kuwait weathered a late storm to beat Bahrain 1-0.
Neda sparked his kick up and over the wall and into the far corner from 25 yards to put the team ranked 127 in the world level on four points with Oman going into the final matches.
Kuwait keeper Nawaf Al-Khaldy made a goal-line save in the dying minutes to leave Bahrain on three points as they prepare to face Oman.
Qatar face defending champs UAE while Yemen play Saudi Arabia in group B on Thursday.