Bahrain take on Turkmenistan today in their final Group E game of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers Final Round at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, knowing that even a draw will be enough for them to qualify for the tournament scheduled for mid-next year.
But Bahrain’s coach said at a Press conference yesterday that, while he was aware a draw would suffice to keep Bahrain on top of the group table, his team would aim, as always, for a win.
“We know that a draw will be enough to keep us first in our group,” Helio Sousa, a former Portuguese international, told reporters. “But we know that this will be another tough game and we will approach it as if nothing has been decided yet. As always, we will play for a win.”
A win would give Bahrain, already leading the four-nation pack in Group E with six points, the maximum nine points from their three games, meaning that they would automatically qualify for the AFC Asian Cup as the leaders of their group. A draw would give them seven points in total and still keep them on top of the table.
But, if they were to lose to Turkmenistan, who currently have three points from their two games, and hosts Malaysia, also on three points, were to beat Bangladesh, all three teams would finish level on six points each, which could lead to the table-topper and runner-up slots being decided on goal difference. According to qualification rules, six teams topping their groups will automatically qualify for the main competition next year, along with five best second-placed teams.
“We must be as strong as we can be, we must be prepared to take our chances,” Sousa stressed. “We know that if they win, they could be in contention for one of the qualifying slots. So, we will back ourselves and depend on ourselves to get the nine points we need to qualify for the next stage of the competition.”
Turkmenistan, who lost 3-1 to Malaysia, before beating Bangladesh 2-1 last Saturday, know they must beat Bahrain to stand any chance of qualifying and head coach Yazguly Hojageldyyew told reporters yesterday that his team was determined to do exactly that.
“We will play against a tough team, where we need to prove ourselves,” he said. “We weren’t expecting to be in this position as we didn’t plan to lose our first game. So, now, we will have to fight in the last game to ensure that we meet our target.”
Meanwhile, Sousa said Bahrain would be wary of Turkmenistan because of their different style of play.
“They play a different game,” he explained. “We must adapt to their playing style. Sometimes, they are physical and strong in the duels. We must avoid that and play our kind of football.”
Sousa added that, even though his team had played their two previous matches in the group – winning 2-1 against Malaysia last Saturday and beating Bangladesh 2-0 before that last week – in completely different weather conditions, he was confident that the Bahraini players would adapt to whatever new challenge match day would bring.
“We try to take the best benefit of what we find at a given moment,” he continued. “Against Malaysia, for example, it was raining and there was so much water on the pitch but we found the right spaces and took our game into play. It was a different challenge from the game against Bangladesh when it was very hot.
“So, now, it’s a question of just this one game. Our players are doing an amazing job. We’re aware that there are three teams fighting to qualify. We’re one of them. We know the job is not finished yet.”
This will be the fifth time Bahrain and Turkmenistan will play each other since their first meeting in the 1994 Asian Games, which ended in a 2-2 draw. The two sides have met three more time since, with Bahrain winning 5-0 in a 2005 international friendly, 2-1 in the 2017 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers and 4-0 in the 2018 AFC Cup qualifiers.
Likely starting line-ups:
Sayed Mohammed Abbas (captain and goalkeeper), Amine Benaddi, Waleed Mohammed Alhayyam, Mohamed Jasim Marhoon, Hashim Sayed Isa, Ali Abdulla Haram, Jasim Ahmed Alshaikh, Komail Hasan Al Aswad, Mahdi Faisal Al Humaidan, Abdulla Yusuf Helal and Rashed Khalil Al Hooti
Batyr Babaýew, Berdimurad Rezhebov, Mekan Saparow, Zafar Babajanow, Yhlas Saparmammedov, Elman Tagaýew, Resul Khozhaev, Ahmet Ataýew, Arslanmyrat Amanow, Altymyrat Annadurdyýew and Mihail Titow.