DUBAI: Bahrain’s hopes of progressing into the knockout stages of the Asian Cup suffered another severe setback last night as the national team failed to convert better ball possession and territorial superiority into anything more meaningful and went down fighting to Thailand by a solitary goal in a Group ‘A’ clash.
Meanwhile, Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout were on target for UAE as the hosts beat India 2-0 to close in on a spot in the last 16 while Jordan won a bruising derby with Syria 2-0 to become the first team to reach the knockout stages from Group ‘B’.
But India, who finished runners-up on their Asian Cup debut in 1964 when it was a four-team competition won by Israel, will still fancy their chances of reaching the knockout phase for the first time.
The Emirates, who salvaged a 1-1 draw in their curtain-raiser against Bahrain after a controversial late penalty last weekend, went top their group on four points from two games.
It was Thailand’s second Asian Cup win in the history of this tournament as the blond talisman Chanathip “Messi Jay” Songkrasin fired home the match winner in the 58th minute to stun into silence travelling Bahraini fans in the stands.
The Consadole Sapporo midfielder’s match-winner was God-send for the Thais who had seemed in disarray when they sacked their coach Milovan Rajevac after losing to India 4-1 in the opener.
Thailand had zero shots on target as Bahrain controlled the first-half, with Mohammed Jassim Marhoon and Sayed Dhiya Saeed coming closest as they forced goalkeeper Chatchai Bootprom into a sharp double save.
But bleach-blond Chanathip, whose fans compare him to Lionel Messi, put the Thais in the driving seat near the hour-mark with a superbly struck first-time shot that rocketed past Sayed Shubbar Alawi in the Bahrain goal.
Chatchai saved brilliantly from Ali Jaafar Madan’s snap-shot as Bahrain hunted for the equaliser, while Adisak Kraisorn, fed by Chanathip, belted one off the post at the other end.
Thailand’s only previous Asian Cup win was in 2007, when they co-hosted the tournament.
Bahrain will leave tonight for Sharjah for their third and last group match against India on Monday, starting 7pm. They now have a single point following a 1-1 draw against the hosts in the opening match.
“Thailand performed totally differently under their new coach. Their defenders were able to clear all our chances, and that was one of the reasons of our loss,” said Bahrain coach Miroslav Soukup.
“We had 16 shots against our opponents but not a single one was serious enough to give us the lead or the equaliser.
“The pressure was on my players as everyone said we were the favourites to win the match, so it kind of psychologically made it difficult for us.”
Coach Soukup, however, said he was still confident of making it to the knockout stages.
“We will go for victory against India,” he concluded.