HAVING risen from the pits, Bahrain will be determined to take another firm step towards reaching the pinnacle when they take on Iraq today in the semi-final of the 24th Gulf Cup in Doha, reports Vijay Mruthyunjaya.
Amazingly, what looked like a Mission Impossible on Monday night, now seemingly appears like a Mission Probable if not Mission Possible.
Bahrain have certainly climbed a mountain to reach this stage after having found themselves with their back to the walls with just a point from two matches and, more importantly no goals scored, before taking on Kuwait in the final group match.
The thrilling 4-2 victory over 10-time champions Kuwait on Monday night has turned the team around and the supposed minnows are now considered possible monarchs. Such is the magic of one memorable victory when it matters the most.
Another victory tonight can open the doors to endless possibilities – a maiden Gulf Cup, a berth in the Asian Cup and even qualifying for the World Cup.
Bahrain can also draw inspiration with the recent achievements of two other national teams and their own performance in the World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers.
Bahrain beat Iran in a crucial match at home and are well placed to qualify for the next stage while the national basketball team finished third in the GCC Championship in Kuwait City on Sunday.
But the icing on the cake was provided by the handball team who beat Qatar in Doha last month to book a maiden berth in the Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo next year
Bahrain, who have appeared in four Gulf Cup finals before, are on the cusp of breaking a jinx as they are yet to win this prestigious regional event since it started in 1970.
All other GCC nations have won it at least once.
To achieve that goal, Bahrain has to put in another inspiring performance, perhaps an even better one than against Kuwait.
Coach Helio Sousa and his team were brimming with confidence yesterday during the final practice session.
Sousa, who was at the receiving end and grim-faced following the 0-2 defeat to Saudi Arabia in the penultimate group match, looked a changed man as he played down the pressure on his team.
“We are preparing for the semi-finals just like we prepare for any other match. We will only put pressure on ourselves if we try to do things differently,” said the Portugal strategist.
“There are a lot of difference between our team and other strong ones in Asia. We have only half-professionals in our team while others are filled with professionals plying their trade in top leagues in the region.”
Sousa added that the Iraqis have been together for two years with coach Srecko Katanec.
“Katanec has been the coach for the last two years while we came together only five or six months ago,” added Sousa.
Iraqi coach Katanec also expressed similar sentiments of the semi-final being yet another match and that his team has far more experience than Bahrain.
“Bahrain are a young side and have done tremendously well to reach the semi-final. We have full respect for their abilities and will not be taking them lightly,” said the Slovenian.
“We are here with a lot of young players who believe in themselves. We will play our game and according to our plans.
“If we listen to the media and the fans, we will not do what we have to do. We have to be realistic. It is true that Iraq did not go past the semi-finals in the previous two editions.
“But this is a different tournament, we have different players and the circumstances too are different,” concluded Katanec.
The match kicks off at 5.30pm. In the other semi-final, Saudi Arabia clash with Qatar at 8pm.