Bahrain’s dream of landing their first Arabian Gulf Cup title is alive after their thrilling 4-2 win over Kuwait at the Khalifa International Stadium yesterday.
Bahrain had gone into the contest in fourth place in Group B, with just one point from two matches. But they leapfrogged Oman and Kuwait with a stunning display in their final group game. With defending champions Oman losing to Saudi Arabia 1-3 at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium around the same time, Bahrain players erupted in joy at the final whistle.
While Saudi qualified as Group B toppers with six pints, Bahrain finished on four points, the same as Oman. But a better goal difference to Oman sealed their place in the semis.
On Thursday, Bahrain will take on Group A winners Iraq, while hosts Qatar play Saudi in a mouth-watering second semi-final.
In a see-saw contest, Bahrain got on to the scoreboard first when Ali Madan gave them the lead in the stoppage time of the first half. Kuwait levelled after Yousef Nasser converted a penalty in the 59th minute, before Jassim al-Shaikh restored Bahrain’s lead in the 69th minute.
Thiago Augusto made it 3-1 for Bahrain in the 83rd minute. Ahmed Zanki, however, kept Kuwait’s chances alive by the reducing the deficit with an 85th minute strike. With Kuwait running out of time for an equaliser, Augusto sealed the deal for Bahrain with a stoppage time goal.
Both the teams went all out in attack in search for the opening goal, but lacked the accuracy in the final third. Kuwait were dealt a double blow in the first half after midfielder Talal al-Fadhel had to make way for Fahad al-Ansari in the 34th minute, while captain Bader al-Mutawa too got injured with Zanki replacing the forward in the 43rd minute.
Al-Mutawa’s injury seemed to have an effect on his teammates as they conceded two minutes after his substitution. With al-Fadhel bringing down Madan, the referee pointed to the spot which the latter converted duly to give Bahrain the lead.
Kuwait started the second half in earnest and equalised after they were awarded a penalty for a foul on Zanki. Nasser stepped in to convert the penalty.
In the 65th minute, Kuwait thought they had taken the lead after Nasser slammed it past goalkeeper Sayed Jaffer. But upon a VAR review the goal was overruled as Nasser had committed a foul.
Four minutes later, al-Shaikh piled on Kuwait’s misery after he scored from outside the box. With Bahrain needing another goal to get past Oman on goal difference, they continued to attack. And it was Augusto, who came in as substitute in the 77th minute, who found the net after receiving a cross from Sayed Dhiya. Zanki kept Kuwait in the game with a goal in the 89th minute, but Augusto’s goal in the dying seconds ensured Bahrain’s place in the semis.
Bahrain’s Portuguese coach Helio Sousa said his side deserved to go through to the semis. “We played a very good game, which showed the hard work we had put in in the last few months. I have 23 players here and they are ready to give it their all. Most of them played a key role in our triumph at the West Asian Championship,” he said.
“We have a very impressive team and what they are showing in this tournament is proof that we are one of the best teams in Asia,” Sousa added.
Kuwait coach Thamer Enad was disappointed after his side’s defeat and lamented the loss of key players due to injuries. “We were not in a top condition today. Three back-to-back matches in short time had an effect on our players. We had to make changes due to injuries and we suffered on the pitch due to that,” he said.
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