Bahrain qualified for the round of 16 in the 19th Asian Games by finishing second in the four-team table despite losing their last Group E game, 3-0, to defending champions South Korea in Hangzhou, China, yesterday.
Coming into the crucial final preliminary round group game, the kingdom’s team were already ranked second in the table with two points from successive 1-1 drawn games against Thailand and Kuwait and needed to ensure that they didn’t lose by a margin bigger than 3-0 to Korea in order to ensure their qualification for the second round.
The Koreans, gold medallists in the previous two Asian Games, who led the table before the game against Bahrain with six points after a 9-0 hammering of Kuwait in their first match and a 4-0 win over Thailand in the second, eventually ended retaining first place in the group with nine points.
Bahrain head coach Dario Basic told the GDN by phone from Hangzhou that he was extremely happy with the way his team played, adding that the players had shown tremendous character in a tough game against the best side in Asia.
“I’m very happy with the way the boys played,” Basic said.
“They showed a lot of discipline, they were tactically so well organised and they showed a lot of character against a team that is easily the best in all of Asia. And they showed how well they can perform at the highest level.”
Bahrain were superb in the first half as they tied the Koreans down, refusing to allow them any opportunities to score and frustrating their opponents with their tight defence.
“We stuck to our plan and we were very organised tactically,” Basic explained.
“So our plan’s execution was perfect. We held them at bay in the first half and they just couldn’t get any shots at our goal; they only managed a few crosses which didn’t pose any danger to us.
“And we could see the Koreans were getting frustrated. They really wanted to score and they made a number of early substitutions but nothing worked for them.”
Eventually, after a scoreless first half, South Korea finally managed to break through in the 61st minute, thanks to a Lee Han-beom goal.
“In football, it takes literally only a second for a goal to be scored if the defending side makes a slight error,” Basic said.
“And that’s what happened. The Koreans gained momentum after that so all credit to them.”
It took South Korea just 13 more minutes to go 2-0 up, courtesy of a Paik Seung-ho goal in the 74th minute. By the 83rd minute, they led 3-0, thanks to Goh Youngjun.
“We refused to give them any more scoring opportunities after that,” Basic said.
“In a tough game like this one, we knew that, if we lost, we couldn’t afford to lose by a bigger margin than 3-0. Of course, it would have been nicer to win, or even draw, but we’ll take a 3-0 defeat because that means we finished second in the table and qualified directly for the main round, along with South Korea.”
Bahrain ended the preliminary round with two points from three games, the same as Thailand and Kuwait, but finished in second place because of goal difference.
Thailand, who placed third, also managed to sneak into the round of 16 by being ranked amongst the four best third-placed teams from all the groups, while Kuwait’s campaign came to an early end.
Bahrain will now play their first main round game on Wednesday against North Korea, who topped Group F with nine points from three straight wins.
“North Korea will be another tough opponent,” Basic said.
“But our boys are very motivated and I believe they could cause an upset against North Korea if they display the same form and spirit as they did in this game.”