After losing their opening match to Qatar, Bahrain now face a tough task to remain in contention for for a quarter-final berth at the FIFA Arab Cup.
The Arabian Gulf Cup champions take on four-time winners Iraq in a crucial Group A match at the Al Thumama Stadium on Friday. The Bahrainis must finish in the top two to advance to the last eight.
Qatar currently leads the group with three points, while Iraq and Oman have one point each with Bahrain yet open their account. The Reds coach Helio Sousa said his men are ready to bounce back from a narrow 0-1 loss to Qatar, where they managed 56 per cent of the possession, albeit without capitalising on it.
“We still have two more group matches to play and six points to grab. I have confidence in my team and we will give our best to advance,” the Portuguese said yesterday. “We played well against Qatar, especially in the first-half. But we couldn’t get the desired result. We are fully aware of the importance of our match against Iraq and if we play as well as we did against Qatar, we can get a positive result tomorrow. We need to show fighting spirit if we want to keep our quarter-final hopes alive,” he said.
Iraq and Bahrain drew both their World Cup Qualifiers in 2019 the same year when The Reds defeated Lions of Mesopotamia 5-3 (2-2) on penalties in the Gulf Cup semi-final.
Sousa feels the past results are not important and his team has to work hard against Iraq. “In the World Cup qualifiers against Iraq we were close to getting victories. But all the previous results are behind us, now the conditions are completely different. Of course, we want to win against them again but it will be a difficult match for both sides,” he said. “There are many strengths of the Iraq team. They have good players and they fight till the end,” Sousa added.
Bahrain player Mohamed Marhoon echoed his coach’s views. “We played a good match against Qatar. Though we lost, the result does not justify our performance. Our team will play tomorrow's match with high spirit and determination and will certainly go all out for victory. We have the belief we can beat anyone and we still hope to go all the way in the tournament,” Marhoon said.
Iraq, who salvaged a point with an equaliser in the eighth minute of added time against Oman in their opening game, will also be looking to build on that. Coach Zeljko Petrovic also rated Bahrain a difficult side.
“We continued to prepare for the Bahrain match by watching a recording of its match against Qatar in the opening. We analyzed some cases that we will work on. Bahrain is an excellent team, and it has good players and they were a strong match for Qatar,” the Montenegrin said yesterday. “All matches are difficult and we seek a positive result against Bahrain,” he added.
Iraq’s Yasser Qassem was sent off in the 68th minute for his second yellow in the match against Oman and Iraq were only able to secure a point after a goal from substitute Hasan Abdulkareem. In midfielder Qassem’s absence, Iraq will rely on Mohamed Qasim, one of their top performers in the opening game.
“That last-minute penalty helped us and I am happy about that, which is a part of football. We have worked to rectify the mistakes we made during our match with Oman. We performed well against them, especially the young players, most notably Manaf Younis,” Petrovic noted. “The players made a great effort, so we made sure to prepare them for the Bahrain match, with the possibility of some changes in the squad,” he said.
Iraqi midfielder Mohamed Qassem said they are aiming for full three points from today’s match. “After the draw against Oman, the team is eager to earn three crucial points against Bahrain and we will fight for that with best of our ability,” Qassem said. “We have a lot to offer in this match and move forward to the second round. The team came to Qatar, not only to participate, but to compete.”