KOMAIL Alaswad fired in the game’s lone goal as Bahrain defeated Cambodia 1-0 yesterday in their joint-qualifying match for the Fifa World Cup 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup 2023, played at a jam-packed National Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh.
After failing to convert a slew of chances, the Bahrainis finally found the net in the 78th minute with Alaswad’s decisive strike from close range.
The influential midfielder pounced on a ball that was punched away off a corner-kick by Cambodia goalkeeper Soksela Keo. Alaswad made no mistake with his right-footed, low volley, and not even the opposing defence along the goal line could make a last-gasp clearance.
“The match was very difficult,” said Alaswad in a post-match interview. “Cambodia were very organised; we tried to score from the first minute but we were only able to do it at the end and get the three points.”
Of the 50,000-plus crowd that watched the match at the venue, Alaswad commented: “It was an amazing atmosphere in this stadium, the spectators were great. It was a perfect atmosphere to play football.”
Alaswad scored for the second successive qualifier for Bahrain. This time, however, it earned them the full three points as the match followed their 1-1 draw against Iraq in their opening assignment last week at home.
The result put Bahrain in first place in Group ‘C’.
In yesterday’s other divisional fixture, group favourites Iran were 2-0 away winners against Hong Kong. That gave them a triumphant start to their qualifying campaign, and it moved the Iranians to second place with three points right behind Bahrain.
Both Cambodia and Hong Kong were handed their first losses yesterday, to go along with one draw. Iraq were not in action.
In Phnom Penh, Bahrain enjoyed the majority of the possession throughout the match and had a handful of early chances but could not capitalise.
Midfielder Sami Al Hussaini was one of their players most threatening to open their account. He had a brilliant solo effort from the left of the box in the 27th minute leading to an off-balanced shot that went inches wide of the right post. His header in the 41st minute bounced off the pitch and went over the crossbar.
After the half-time break, Al Hussaini mistimed an effort in the face of goal and then had a header collected by Keo. Right before the hour-mark, he hit a powerful right-footed strike in the box directly at the Cambodian keeper, who was able to make the stop with his chest.
Striker Abdulla Yousuf and midfielder Sayed Dhiya Saeed also had chances in the match, along with Ismaeel Abdullatif and Isa Jehad, who both came on as substitutes in the second half.
Bahrain head coach Helio Sousa began the contest with a starting 11 that included Sayed Mohammed Jaffar between the posts, Waleed Al Hayam, Ahmed Bughammar, Jassim Al Shaikh, Abdulla Al Hazaa, Sayed Redha Issa, Ali Haram, Alaswad, Al Hussaini, Yousuf, and Saeed.
Bahrain return to action in the joint-qualifiers on October 15 at home against Iran.