Bahrain sealed an historic Arabian Gulf Cup title – their first in tournament’s 49-year-old history – after a stunning 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the final at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium Sunday.
Mohamed al-Rumaihi’s 69th minute goal put an end to Bahrain’s years of pain, in which they had finished runner-up four times in 1970, 1982, 1992 and 2003. As the final whistle was blown, Bahrain players sank to their knees to thank the almighty even as the support staff and substitutes rushed onto the field in celebration.
Tweet by His Highness the Amir
We are delighted with the participation of the brothers in the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup, during which we have seen amazing days. Congratulations to Bahrain for winning the title and better luck to the other teams. We are proud of the success of the championship and all thanks and appreciation for all those who have participated in organising it.
سعدنا بمشاركة الأشقاء في بطولة #كأس_الخليج_24 التي عشنا معها أياما رائعة. هنيئا للبحرين الفوز باللقب وحظا أوفر للفرق الأخرى. فخورون بنجاح البطولة وكل الشكر والتقدير لكل من شارك في تنظيمها.
His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was in attendance for the high-profile match and later crowned the champions.
It was a fitting triumph for Bahrain, who came into the tournament as underdogs, and put their heart and soul into every game.
They had lost 0-2 to Saudi in the group stages and were in the brink of elimination, but a thrilling 4-2 win over Kuwait put them in semis, where they held their nerve to edge past Iraq on penalties.
Portuguese manager Helio Sousa, who had earlier this year led Bahrain to West Asian Football Federation Championship title, attained legendary status as he brought an end to Pearl Divers’ Gulf Cup drought.
Sousa chose to go with an entirely different XI to the one that played against Iraq in the semi-finals, and he was proved right. Bahrain despite lacking in quality to Saudi, stayed in the match after early dominance from the Green Falcons, who wasted a penalty in the 10th minute.
Saudi – the three time champions and a regional football powerhouse – should have taken a two-goal lead inside the first ten minutes. Salem al-Dawsari, who came into the starting XI after sitting out of the semi-final against Qatar due to injury, was inches away from giving Saudi the lead. The Al Hilal star’s ferocious right-footer in the fourth minute bounced off the top right bar as Saudi started on the front foot.
Six minutes later, al-Dawsari was once again in the thick of action after he was brought down by Bahrain’s Jasim al-Shaikh in the box, with Swiss referee Lionel Tschudi pointing to the spot. In what turned out to be a turning point, captain Salman al-Faraj stepped in to take the penalty but put too much power behind his effort as the ball landed in the stands. Bahrain players heaved a sigh of relief, so did their travelling supporters.
Bahrain forward Mahdi al-Humaidan, who had an outstanding game, had a chance to put his team ahead in the 14th minute but hit straight to goalkeeper Fawaz al-Qarni. Thereafter, chances were few and far between as both sides struggled in front of the goal.
The energetic al-Dawsari did look like breaking the deadlock in the 36th minute. The winger danced around the box as he dodged three Bahraini defenders, but slipped just before aiming his shot. Al-Humaidan also came close to scoring but his header was tipped over by al-Qarni.
Al-Humaidan had his heart in his mouth when forward Abdullah al-Hamdan – Saudi’s hero in semis win over Qatar – went down after a slight contact at the end of first half. Tschudi had waved to play on and a VAR review confirmed the referee was right.
In the second half too, Saudi controlled the possession with Bahrain waiting to attack on the break. Al-Dawsari continued to threaten but was found wanting in his final third as frustration crept into Saudi’s game.
In the 69th minute, Saudi were penalised for early misses. Al-Humaidan ran into a wide position and crossed in a prefect ball to al-Rumaihi, who beat defender Abdulellah al-Malki, to tap into the net with his left foot as Saudi stopper al-Qarni watched in frustration.
Armed with a one goal-lead and their supporters rallying behind them, Bahrain had a spring in their step and tightened their defence. Saudi searched for an equaliser but Bahrain closed down the spaces.
The Green Falcons had a chance in the 87th minute to take the game into extra time, but Feras al-Bikran's shot was way off the mark. Herve Renard’s men also won a free kick in the stoppage time after Syed Isa Hashim fouled al-Bikran just outside the box but the Bahraini wall was able to avert the danger. That was the last piece of action in the game as Bahrain held on for a significant win in their football history.