Hosts Thailand upset Bahrain 2-0 yesterday in their last Group A match of the 2023 AFC Beach Soccer Asian Cup in Pattaya to top the four-team table and qualify for the quarter-finals.
Bahrain, who led the table with six points compared to Thailand’s three coming into the game, also qualified for the last-eight stage after finishing in second place because of goal difference after both teams finished the group stage level on points.
2006 champions Bahrain were put under pressure from the start by the hosts who were egged on by a capacity crowd at the Jomtien Beach Arena.
But the visitors refused to be intimidated by Thailand’s home advantage and kept the Thai players on their toes with some audacious passing and attempts on goal.
But it was Thailand who eventually broke the deadlock, with less than four minutes left in the second period, when they managed to finally score after several missed opportunities.
The crowd roared its approval as Tanandon Praracha sent the ball whizzing into the net off a Wuttinan Pruethong corner to put the hosts ahead, 1-0.
Bahrain responded by launching several well-coordinated attempts on the Thai goal, to no avail.
Instead, Thailand nearly went up 2-0, with just six minutes left in the game but a scorching kick by Komrit Nanan just skimmed over the crossbar.
With time running out, Bahrain desperately sought the equaliser but their aggression resulted in captain Rashed Jamal Salem being sent off with slightly more than a minute left in the game.
That was time enough for Watchara Lepajit to score a second goal for the hosts, enabling Thailand to go beyond the group stage in the tournament for the first time in four attempts.
“It was a very tough match,” Bahrain coach Sadiq Marhoon told the GDN by phone from Pattaya. “We anticipated that it would be a difficult game but they came out with intent and dominated proceedings from the start.
“But, despite the loss, we are very happy to have qualified for the quarter-finals. We will put this game behind us and prepare as well as we can for that important match.”
Bahrain will play Iran, who topped Group B after winning all three of their matches, tomorrow in the high-stakes quarter-final and Marhoon stressed that his team would do their best against opponents they know are very strong.
“All our players know that Iran are a very good team, a very strong team,” he said. “But, importantly, every Bahraini player know how each Iranian player performs so they will prepare accordingly.
“I would say that both teams have a 50-50 chance of winning the game. It’s all about grasping the opportunities in a match and making the most of them. Whichever team does that well deservedly wins the match.”
Meanwhile, Thailand will play the UAE, who finished second in Group B, in the other quarter-final tomorrow.