Bahrain will take on Qatar in tomorrow’s opening match in Group A of the Fifa Arab Cup 2021.
The competition sees 16 teams from across the Arab world come together to compete in what has been described as a festival of football and celebration of Arab culture.
Fifa says the event offers ‘a great opportunity for competitors and spectators alike’ to experience the iconic stadiums that will host the World Cup in 2022.
Facing the hosts in any tournament is no easy task. Aside from the home crowd, there are lots of other factors to contend with. Luckily for the Reds, however, midfielder Sayed Dhiya Saeed knows a thing or two about the Qataris and how to beat them.
Six years ago, in the final Group C match of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, Saeed opened the scoring against Al Annabi with a strike from inside the box, setting Bahrain on the way to a 2-1 win. Facing the 29-year-old that day were several members of the current Qatari squad.
Having made his international debut in 2011, Saeed has played against Qatar six times in all and never lost to them. The Reds won three of those games, including that 2015 Asian Cup match, with the other three matches ending in draws.
In an exclusive interview with Fifa.com, Saeed spoke about this latest clash with Qatar. “It’s a very important game,” he said. “They’re a tough team with several fantastic players. A win will give us a huge morale boost for the rest of tournament.”
The midfielder, who had a stint in Kuwaiti football, said the current Qatar side bears little resemblance to the one he helped beat at the Asian Cup, and rated them “one of the best teams in Asia”.
“Things change fast in football and six years have gone by since that game,” he explained. “The current Qatari team isn’t the one we played back in 2015. They’ve come on a lot, but we’ve also improved significantly and we can take on anyone.”
Though aware that tomorrow’s encounter at Al Bayt Stadium will be a major test, Saeed is confident Bahrain can get a result. Explaining what the Reds need to do to win, he said: “We must study the opposition well, be calm, follow the coach’s instructions, and be ready on every technical, physical and tactical level. We must show that on the pitch.”
After their opener against Qatar, Bahrain take on Iraq at Al Thumama Stadium before playing Oman at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium. Featuring four sides from the Arabian Gulf region, Group A is seen by some as a tournament within a tournament.
Saeed, who has played against all three teams, is under no illusions about the task that lies ahead: “It’s not going to be easy. It never is against Gulf teams. They are always special games, always fiercely competitive. I can’t identify the biggest hurdle in the group because they’re all strong, but we see the opening game as very important. They’re never easy to play.”
Discussing Bahrain’s ambitions in the tournament, Saeed said: “We’ll take it one game at a time. We’ll do all we can to qualify from the group, go as far as we can in the tournament and, why not, win the title.”
Asked about the significance of the tournament for the Arab world, the Bahrain No4 added: “It’ll be a beautiful tournament that brings together most of the strong Arab teams. What makes it even more special is that it’ll be played at the World Cup stadiums. I’m sure it’ll be a great experience for everyone.”
Kick off is at 7.30pm.