BAHRAIN’S wait for a major football trophy ended last night in Doha with the national team lifting the 24th Gulf Cup against tremendous odds in front of a rapturous crowd dressed in red, including 2,000 fans specially flown in for the final.
Fans back home celebrated the occasion late into the night with an early New Year party.
The 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia was sweet revenge for the 0-2 defeat Bahrain suffered against the same opponents in the second Group ‘B’ match which almost saw their campaign come to a premature and painful end as at that stage they had just one point from two matches.
Having a mountain to climb, the Reds proved the tough gets going when the going gets tough. From the pits they have risen to the pinnacle, much to the joy of their thousands of passionate fans.
A thrilling 4-2 victory in a do-or-die match against Kuwait saw Bahrain steamroll past defending champions Oman into the semi-final.
A heart-stopping 5-3 victory over Iraq, ranked 74 compared with Bahrain’s 101, in a penalty shootout after extra-time ended 2-2 in the semi-final was followed by an even more memorable triumph last night that ended an agonisingly long 49-year wait to lift this prestigious trophy.
Since their first match, a 1-0 victory over Qatar, in the history of the Gulf Cup way back on March 27, 1970, at home, Bahrain have suffered more heartburns than enjoyed any heroics - including four final defeats.
But last night Bahrain punched above their weight to beat Saudi Arabia, ranked 69 and three-time champions, in another showdown not recommended for the weak hearted.
Mohamed Al Rumaihi netted the second-half winner for Bahrain.
But much before that Bahrain suffered a twin scare. Salem Al Dosari almost put Saudi ahead but his powerful right footer from the edge of the box could only shake the cross bar in the fourth minute while eight minutes later Saudi Arabia captain Salman Al Farag missed a penalty.
The Saudis have now lost in the final four times in the last six editions of the competition and have not won the title since 2004.
The final was not about class but character and Bahrain proved its with another whole-hearted performance that made every citizen proud.
Coach Heilo Sousa has indeed pulled off a coup. From a villain, as he was deemed by many hardcore fans after the first two matches for his maniacal team selection, the 50-year-old Portuguese has turned into an overnight hero.
Last night’s victory now open the doors to endless possibilities - including qualifying for the World Cup.
Bahrain’s latest heroics add to the achievements of two other national teams and their own performance in the World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers apart from winning the West Asia Championship.
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 last week.
But the icing on the cake was provided by the handball team which beat Qatar in Doha last month to book a maiden berth in the Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo next year.
Bahraini fans can now cut another cake on the team’s return from Doha … much ahead of the rest of the world waiting for Christmas and New Year.