Bahrain will face Japan tomorrow in their last, must-win Group D game of the 2024 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers at the Muharraq Stadium.
The game is crucial for the hosts because they are currently third in the four-team table with three points after losing their opening game 1-0 to Palestine – who also have three points after a win and a loss in their two games thus far but are second because of goal difference – before beating Pakistan 3-1 in their second outing.
Japan currently lead the table with six points after two consecutive wins against Pakistan (6-0) and Palestine (1-0).
Yet the race for qualification is still wide open because if Bahrain manage to defeat Japan and Pakistan beat Palestine, or hold them to a draw, Bahrain could draw level with the group leaders with goal difference becoming the deciding factor in determining which team tops the group and goes straight through to the Asian Cup.
43 teams placed in 11 groups (10 groups of four teams each and one with three teams) are competing in different countries for qualification to the main tournament. According to the Qualifiers’ format, 11 group winners and the four best runners-up will qualify for the Asian Cup.
That means that, even if Bahrain finish in second place in their group, they could still be in the running for qualification.
“Yes, there are a lot of permutations and combinations that could come into play,” Bahrain head coach Dario Basic told the GDN.
“But, first things first. We are facing Japan who, we know, are a formidable side and they’ve proved that already by winning their first two games on the trot in this tournament.
“And, before that, in the previous matches they’ve played in the lead-up to this tournament, they’ve done extremely well against teams like England, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands and all those games have either ended in victories for Japan or been drawn games.”
In addition, Basic added, the Japanese players were vastly more experienced than their Bahraini counterparts.
“They have lots of players who turn out for top clubs in Europe,” he explained.
“Some of them form the main line-up for a club in Belgium which is considered to be one of the best teams in their league.”
Still, Basic was hopeful that his young side would do well and that playing a top-notch team like Japan would have long-term benefits for them.
“Most of my players are 19 or 20 years old,” he added.
“This experience will be invaluable for them because I see them going on to be the next generation of the senior national side.
“But, if we want to win this game, we have to be highly organised, highly disciplined, respect each other and hopefully get a positive result.”
Should Bahrain succeed in upsetting their more-fancied opponents, they’ll still face a nervous wait until the end of the Palestine-Pakistan game later in the evening to find out if the wheel of fortune has turned in their favour.
The Bahrain-Japan match starts at 6.30pm while the Pakistan-Palestine encounter begins at 9.30pm.