Bahrain stormed into the semi-finals of the 2022 Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Cup for Men after they beat Pakistan 3-0 yesterday in their last Pool F main round game in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand.
Ranked 11th in Asia and tournament debutants who have lit up the competition with their stellar performances, Bahrain’s 25-18, 27-25, 25-20 win over Pakistan, who occupy eighth place in the Asian rankings, underlined their fine form across the first two stages of the event, where they have lost only the one game – to China – out of the four they have played.
They will now face Japan, who are ranked second in Asia and placed first in Pool E, in the first semi-final today, in a game that promises to be a humdinger.
But a packed schedule that has seen Bahrain play two tough games on consecutive days – they beat Iran 3-1 on Thursday – has raised concerns among the team management about the impact it has had on players as they ready themselves for a third important match in as many days.
“It was a difficult match for us as some players in my team are tired,” Bahrain head coach Issanaye Ramiress Ferraz admitted to reporters after yesterday’s game. “Regarding our teamwork, I think we can do better than this in side-outs and attacks.”
In an effort to give his main players some rest in case they made it to the semi-final, Ferraz took advantage of Bahrain’s 2-0 lead as they entered the third set yesterday by shuffling his line-up, allowing substitutes to play longer and gain valuable experience.
The ploy didn’t harm his team’s chances at all as they surged into an early lead and, soon, had widened it to five points at 18-13.
Aware that the third set represented their last chance to stay in the match, Pakistan launched a spirited counter-attack but Bahrain continued to rack up points and, when the scoreboard read 23-17 in their favour, the Pakistanis knew they were just two points away from losing the set and the game.
They managed to rack up another three points but all Bahrain needed to do was add the two they required and, before long, it was all over.
Earlier, Pakistan capitalised on a slow start by the Bahrainis in the first set to lead 4-2 in the first few minutes of the match.
But that was too small a lead to bother Bahrain very much and Mohamed Abdulla, the outside hitter who had starred in the game against Iran with 21 points, enabled his team to level the score at 6-6 and then, grab a two-point lead at 13-11.
With setter, Mahmood Alafyah, and middle blocker, Mohamed Aldawiri, backing Abdulla up, Bahrain swiftly built up a six-point lead, at 17-11. But Pakistan’s Mazhar Ali counter-attacked and enabled his team to add five quick points with the scoreboard reading 16-18 in Bahrain’s favour.
Any hopes Pakistan had of taking the lead were quickly dashed, however, as Abdulla and outside hitter, Naser Anan, combined to launch successful attacks from both wings to enable Bahrain to take the set, 25-18, and go 1-0 up in the game.
The first few minutes of the second set saw Bahrain take the lead again. But, this time, Pakistan appeared more disciplined and, even though Bahrain led 10-9 at one point, refused to allow them to build a bigger lead before drawing level at 13-13 and, again, at 19-19.
For the first time in the match, the Bahrainis were under pressure as the Pakistanis drew level yet again at 23-23 and, then, inched ahead, 24-23. The set was Pakistan’s for the taking with just one point required to clinch it.
But Bahrain had other ideas. They equalised at 24-24, then again at 25-25 after Pakistan had sneaked ahead again.
Something had to give and it was Pakistan who blinked first, making another couple of unforced errors of the kind that had plagued them from the start and enabling Bahrain to take the set, 27-25, and a 2-0 lead in the match.
“It was a hard day for us,” Ferraz said after his team had clinched victory. “But, now, we are in the semi-final and looking forward to that.”
The semi-final will start at 11am Bahrain time.
The second semi-final between tournament favourites China and South Korea will begin at 2pm, Bahrain time.