Al Hala clinched their first King Cup title since 1981 – and their fourth overall – after acing a tense penalty shootout, 6-5, against eight-time champions Al Ahli last night at a packed Khalifa Sports City Stadium.
With the game having gone into penalties after a goalless, regulation, 90 minutes and 30 minutes of extra time, the crowd – dominated by a sea of Al Ahli fans in their team’s yellow shirts – watched in consternation as the increasingly bizarre penalty shootout unfolded.
It started well for the vocal Al Ahli fans as Vinicius Vargas Dos Santos calmly put his team 1-0 ahead with a right-footed kick that sent the ball speeding past Al Hala goalkeeper Mohammed Abdulrahim’s late dive to the right.
Then Ali Jamal stepped up for Al Hala and sent the ball soaring into the net as Al Ahli goalkeeper Ibrahim Lutfallah dived in vain to his right.
Abbas Ayyad, the Al Ahli captain, then walked up to take his turn and the Al Ahli fans gasped with horror as the ball rebounded off the left goalpost.
Al Hala’s Walid Al Tayyeb trotted up to the mark to take his shot and made no mistake with the ball soaring into the net with Lutfallah diving in vain again.
Now 2-1 down, Al Ahli needed their next player to score to be able to stay in the contest and Abbas Al Asfoor obliged, striking the ball cleanly to ensure that it went past a lunging Abdulrahim at the rate of knots.
The teams were now level at 2-2 but Al Ahli were a stroke down and their supporters watched with trepidation as Al Hala’s Alain Eyenga walked confidently up to his mark.
But, seconds later, they erupted in celebration as Eyenga’s firm kick saw the ball rebound off the left goalpost, aware that Al Ahli had been granted a lifeline.
With the score still tied at 2-2, it was the Al Hala fans’ turn to watch nervously as Al Ahli’s Baaqir Mohammed lined up his kick. But he got his radar wrong and the Al Hala supporters cheered lustily as the ball rebounded off the right goalpost.
Soon, they were celebrating again as Al Hala’s Baba Diop made no mistake and sent the ball into the right side of the net while Lutfallah dived in the opposite direction.
Al Hala were now 3-2 in front and Abdullah Alhashash needed to score for Al Ahli to keep them in the game and he made no mistake, sending the ball curving over Abdulrahim as the goalkeeper dived to his left.
Both teams were level on 3-3 now and it was time for a confrontation between the two goalkeepers as Abdulrahim was selected to take the next penalty for Al Hala.
But his weak, left-footed kick rolled across the turf to Lutfalla’s right who dived to gather it just in time.
Now with a spring in their steps, Al Ahli sent Marcolino Neto Silva to try and put them ahead and he obliged, sending the ball curling into the right side of the net with his left foot while Abdulrahim dived in the opposite direction.
Al Ahli were now 4-3 ahead and, this time, Al Hala needed their chosen player to score to ensure that they stayed in the hunt for the title.
And Abuchi Nicolas didn’t disappoint as he tricked Lutfallah into diving to his right while he sent the ball into the other side of the net.
With the teams now level on 4-4, Mahdi Hashim stepped up for Al Ahli but soon collapsed distraught on the floor as his powerful kick sent the ball sailing high over the crossbar into the crowd.
Al Hala sensed they had the advantage but Kwame Yeboah’s right-footed kick didn’t have much power behind it and Lutfallah managed to parry it away with his knee as it rolled tamely toward him.
It was Al Ahli’s turn to think they could turn this to their advantage but Marcelo De Souza’s attempt was also more powerful than needed and the ball sailed over the crossbar again.
With the teams still level at 4-4, Yahya Anfahi stepped up to take Al Hala’s next shot but his left-footed attempt was saved by Lutfallah.
Nawaf Abdullah then strode up to try and put Al Ahli ahead and he succeeded with a right-footed kick that shot the ball past Abdulrahim’s outstretched left hand.
Al Ahli were now leading 5-4 and Ahmed Kumail, who appeared to walk confidently up to the mark, needed to make his attempt count for Al Hala.
And, make it count, he did as he sent the ball rocketing past Lutfallah as he dived to his left.
The two teams were level again at 5-5 and Al Ahli’s Zakaria Ismaili Alaoui had the chance to win the game for his team.
But his attempt was saved by Abdulrahim, diving to his right and Al Hala were now in with a chance to seal the match.
Their captain, Ali Adnan, walked up to the mark and, if he was nervous, did a very good job of hiding his emotions as he waited for the referee to signal he could proceed.
As soon as the whistle went off, Adnan sent the ball whizzing past Lutfallah’s right hand into the net, sparking raucous celebrations from his teammates and support staff and the many Al Hala supporters in the stands.
His Majesty King Hamad deputised National Guard Commander Shaikh Mohammed bin Isa Al Khalifa to attend the final.
Present on the occasion were Supreme Council for Youth and Sport first deputy chairman, General Sports Authority (GSA) chairman and Bahrain Olympic Committee (BOC) president Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa, GSA deputy chairman and Bahrain Combat Sports Council chairman Shaikh Salman bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Cabinet Affairs Ministry Undersecretary and BOC vice-president Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa and Bahrain Football Association president Shaikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.