I went to sleep early hoping to wake up for the bout between Bahrain and United Arab Emirates. It was 2 am in this part of the world, but I was prepared. A little sprinkle of water to the face and I was good to watch UAE get their second win of the tournament.
Politically, UAE and Bahrain have an unpretentious but friendly tension between them. Both countries, along with Qatar, were in talks to form a union after the British withdrew from the region. Bahrain backed out and decided to form, well…Bahrain in 1971. As legend has it, it did not go well down with a few people and hence, the existence of a friendly tension they laugh about today.
The story is similar on the pitch, with the Emirati’s possessing a noteworthy superiority over the Bahraini’s – a talented offensive lineup. Coming into it after a patronising victory over Gulf Cup Champions Qatar, UAE look like the team to beat, when they get that offensive lineup going. Bahrain, marched onto the pitch in search of redemption after a decent 2 – 0 loss against Iran in the first round.
To make it worthwhile for me, the Emirati’s decided to score in the 15 seconds of the game. A long ball pass from Omar Abdul Rahman found Ali Mabkhout who did well to put it past the Bahraini goaltender Sayed Mohamed Abbas.
And then all was groovy until the beast showed up in the 26th minute. Nigerian born Jaycee Okwunwanne levelled the score through a header from a corner kick. I had always equated UAE’s defensive efforts to that of a pack of fresh Omani chips because they crack easily on touch.
At that point, happened to come across the below tweet from Asian football expert John Duerden.
This just got real now. Going into the half, we were back at square one working towards a win.
I was expecting the second half to start with a bang, just like how it did in the first half. However, it was far from that. The game went through a long period of dry spell with both teams losing their momentum, which was seen earlier. I was more into learning how to make an Omani Chips sandwich, at this point.
But an own goal from Bahrain’s captain Mohamed Hasan rejuvenated my interest. Amer Abdul Rahman was able to put enough pace into a free kick from just outside the box, to throw everyone off in the box. On the receiving end was Mohamed Hasan, unfortunately. The score remained 2 – 1 till full-time.
Bahrain attempted to pressure from thereon but their efforts were in vain. With this win, UAE will be comfortable knowing that they are through to the next round. The game against Iran, though important from both political and sporting perspectives, will be an opportunity for Mahdi Ali to test new tactics. A win, nevertheless, will guarantee an “easier” opponent in the knockout stages. Sadly, Bahrain will be packing their bags after the consolation game against the Qatari’s in the final round of the group stages.