BAHRAIN pulled off a miracle yesterday as they overcame huge odds to book their berth in the Round of 16 of the men’s football tournament at the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia.
The Bahrainis defeated Malaysia 3-2 in their final assignment in Group ‘E’ of the preliminary round. They needed nothing less than a victory to have any chance of qualifying, and the result pushed them through as one of four best third-placers from this opening stage.
Qualifying ahead of them in Group ‘E’ were Malaysia and defending champions South Korea who each had six points from their three matches. The Bahrainis had four, while Kyrgyzstan finished with one. Korea beat Kyrgyzstan 1-0 in yesterday’s other divisional fixture.
The three other third-placers to march through were Hong Kong from Group ‘A’, Saudi Arabia from Group ‘F’ and the UAE from Group ‘C’.
Bahrain next take on Group ‘D’ winners Vietnam in their Round of 16 clash on Thursday.
The Bahrainis headed into yesterday’s contest in last place in Group ‘E’ and with a minus-six goal difference on their record. Making their win over the Malaysians even sweeter was their impressive comeback from a goal down after having conceded early on in the contest. Bahrain could even have had several more goals added to their final tally, but they failed to capitalise on all their chances which included at least another two shots that hit either the goal posts or the crossbar.
The nationals got off to a horrendous start, allowing their rivals an easy goal in the 20th minute after some shoddy defending that saw them fail to clear the ball in the box despite a few clean-cut chances. The Malaysians took advantage and a brilliant volley from Muhammad Safari that powered into the right of the net gave them their lead.
Two minutes later, they were unlucky not to double their advantage as Bahraini defender Hasan Al Karrani managed to make a last-ditch clearance on the goal line following a Malaysian attack at an open goal.
Later in the 33rd minute, Bahrain skipper Mohamed Hardan then brought his team back to life with an equaliser. He sent home a well-hit shot from the centre of the box after a fine pass from midfield mate Mohamed Marhoon.
Just four minutes later, Bahrain went ahead with a brilliant low header from defender Hamad Alshamsan off a cross from the right corner. Alshamsan made no mistake with his effort, which slipped through the hands of Malaysian goalkeeper Mohammed Chek Kassim and into the net. That was enough to give the Bahrainis a slim one-goal advantage at the half.
The Bahrainis had now turned things around and, determined to close out the win, put on an inspired effort in the second half. They had many chance to score, but just couldn’t come up with the final ball.
An Ahmed Sanad shot was saved by Chek Kassim, while Al Karrani had another attempt go just inches wide of the target. Sanad also hit the crossbar, while substitute Ahmed Al Sherooqi had a shot hit the left post and go out of bounds.
The Bahrainis were finally rewarded for their persistence in the 89th minute, this time with Hardan converting with class high shot after a sublime through-pass from Marhoon. Hardan completed his brace with his strike, which virtually assured Bahrain of their spot in the Round of 16.
The Malaysians got another consolation through a penalty after a foul in the area. Muhammad Safawi Rasid fired the ball home in the very last minute of stoppage time.