BAHRAIN conceded a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Iraq last night as they missed out on a winning start to their joint-qualifiers for the Fifa World Cup 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup 2023.
Komail Alaswad put the Bahrainis ahead in the ninth minute and the hosts appeared to be headed towards an impressive victory in front of their home fans at the National Stadium in Riffa.
But their rock-solid defence slacked off momentarily and the Iraqis took full advantage, as Mohanad Ali Alshammari levelled the proceedings with just five minutes remaining in regular time.
It was a disappointing ending to a match in which Bahrain were mostly in control.
After sharing the spoils, the Bahrainis and Iraqis were joined by their counterparts from Hong Kong and Cambodia with one point apiece on the Group ‘C’ table.
Hong Kong and Cambodia played to a 1-1 stalemate in yesterday’s other divisional fixture in Phnom Penh. The fifth team in their group, Iran, were not in action.
The Bahrainis now travel to the Cambodian capital for their second qualifier scheduled for Tuesday next week. On the same day, Hong Kong host Iran.
Bahrain head coach Helio Sousa kicked off last night’s contest with a starting 11 that included veteran skipper Sayed Mohammed Jaffar between the posts; Ahmed Bughammar, Sayed Redha Issa, Abdulla Alhazaa and Ahmed Abdulla in defence; Sayed Dhiya Saeed, Ali Madan, Ali Haram, Jassim Al Shaikh and Alaswad in a five-man midfield; and Ismaeel Abdullatif as the lone striker.
The Bahrainis got off to a hot start when Alaswad slipped the ball past Iraq goalkeeper Mohammed Farhan and into the net.
Alaswad hit his left-footed shot from a few metres outside the penalty box. As Farhan was about to collect, the ball bounced off the pitch and he misjudged his save, allowing the ball through his hands and between his legs.
Farhan made up for his gaffe with a brilliant stop right before half-time. Bahrain’s Ali Madan pounced on a brilliant lob pass from Ali Haram into the box, but his off-balance, left-footed effort was parried away by Farhan, preserving the single-goal deficit at the interval.
In the final 45 minutes, Farhan was once again instrumental in keeping Iraq in the game. He made a couple of crucial saves, including long-range, on-target efforts from Bahrain’s Sayed Dhiya Saeed in the 59th minute and substitute Sami Al Hussaini in the 80th.
On the opposite end of the pitch, the Iraqis were struggling to produce any clear-cut chances, with the Bahrain defence doing well to keep their rivals at bay. But they eventually found an opening and Alshammari punished Bahrain. He was on the receiving end of a precision cross from teammate Ali Adnan, and he sent the ball home with a left-footed shot right in the face of goal.
Bahrain’s defenders were right there with him but they did not make a clearance.
Neither team could find a winner from there; not even Bahrain’s history-making striker Abdulla Yousuf could produce any clear chances. Alaswad had a potential opportunity with the final kick of the match in stoppage time, but his long-range attempt was marginally off-target.