Bahrain moved one step closer to qualifying for the 2023 AFC Under-20 Asian Cup by defeating Bhutan 2-1 in their third Group B Qualifiers game last night at the Muharraq Stadium.
The win sets up their final match tomorrow against table-toppers, Qatar, as a virtual final with the winners going directly through to the Asian Cup which will be held in Uzbekistan in March next year.
Bahrain, with seven points from their three games after having earlier played a scoreless draw against Bangladesh last Saturday followed by a 6-0 thumping of Nepal on Wednesday, are just two points behind Qatar, who have nine, having won all three of their matches thus far.
“We did really well,” Bahrain team manager, Juma Almahmeed told the GDN after the game. “We needed this win and, now, we are going to focus on the match against Qatar because it is like a final for us.”
Bahrain’s victory was set up by captain Mubarak Mohamed Habib, who played a role in both of his team’s goals, scoring off a penalty in the first half and then bamboozling the Bhutan defenders in the second with some nifty footwork before launching a cross across the mouth off the goal for midfielder Salem Aldoseri to tap into the net with the goalkeeper, Dorji Gyeltshen, left wrong-footed.
Bahrain were then 2-0 up with just half an hour left in the match.
However, Habib missed out on an easy chance to score his second goal of the night just four minutes later when the referee awarded Bahrain a penalty kick after midfielder Sayed Ali Naser was brought down in the box by an ugly tackle by a Bhutan defender. The Bahrain captain stepped up to take the penalty but, unlike his earlier successful attempt in the first half which rocketed past the diving Gyeltshen, his weak kick this time rolled tamely across the ground, allowing the Bhutan goalkeeper to easily scoop it up.
It looked like Habib would be left to rue his mistake as Bhutan upped the tempo thereafter, making repeated attempts at goal before their sprightly forward, Santa Kumar Lamboo took a pass from a midfielder and sprinted past two Bahrain defenders to send the ball screaming past goalkeeper Mohamed Hasan Jaafer’s outstretched left hand.
The score read 2-1 now, with 14 minutes to play and, suddenly, there was a spring in the Bhutan players’ steps.
Bahrain were now on the defensive as Bhutan sought to score the equaliser. But, try as they might, luck was not on their side with their scoring attempts resulting in the ball either going wide of the goal or straight into Jaafer’s hands.
When the buzzer finally sounded, the Bhutan players slumped to the ground while the Bahrainis walked off the field, sporting big smiles as they were greeted by their delighted teammates.
“It was a happy moment for all of us,” Almahmeed said. “But, as I said before, our focus is going to be on the game against Qatar tomorrow. We know they’re a good team and they know we’re very good too. This match is like an Arabian Gulf derby because these are two very competitive, well-matched teams. Our goal, of course, is to win and qualify directly for the Asian Cup.”
While the winners of the Bahrain-Qatar game will head straight into the Asian Cup, there will still be a chance for the losing side to sneak into the event if they finish within the top five second-placed teams in the 10-group qualifying stage.