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AFC Asian Cup Rival Watch: Bahrain

Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar

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The Al-Ahmar are one of the most underrated sides in the tournament.

In Group A of the AFC Asian Cup, Bahrain are being considered as an opponent of equal standards to India. While they have a more consistent record in the tournament than the Blue Tigers, their inferior FIFA ranking and a similar recent record makes them a side Indian fans will be hoping to get a positive result against. However, Bahrain are anything but a team to be taken lightly. More experienced in premier competitions, they can sting like a bee and be the real underdogs of Group A. The Al-Ahmar head into the tournament with utmost confidence and like India, will aim to make an emphatic statement.

About The Tournament

The AFC Asian Cup is the premier international competition in Asian football. It is the second oldest continental cup competition in the world after the Copa America and was started in 1956. Since then, it has taken place every four years and the last one took place in Australia. The winners of the Asian Cup are crowned as the champions of Asia and also qualify to play in the FIFA Confederations Cup, which takes place a year before every FIFA World Cup.

Bahrain have maintained impressive consistency in terms of qualifying for the Asian Cup almost every time after the start of the 21st century.  They’ve qualified for four of the five editions that have taken place since the turn of the century, but have not been able to go past the group stages on three of those occasions. Their best finish in the Asian Cup came in 2004 in China, when they progressed to the semi-finals, defeating teams like Indonesia and Uzbekistan on the way. They finished fourth in 2004, which remains their best finish in an Asian Cup till date.

About The Team

Bahrain have grown leaps and bounds in football over the years, making inroads in attaining consistent Asian Cup qualification as well as impressing in other tournaments. They’re about to play in their fourth consecutive continental showpiece and will look to outdo themselves in a difficult group.

Bahrain will play in their fourth consecutive AFC Asian Cup

Apart from that, Bahrain have finished as runners-up in the AFC Gulf Cup on four occasions in their history, while they reached the competition's semi-finals last year. They’ve also finished as runners-up in the Arab Nations Cup twice, while winning the Pan Arab Games once in 2011.

Last Term’s Performance

Bahrain were put in a relatively difficult group in the Asian Cup of 2015, where they had to face heavyweights in Iran and the United Arab Emirates. The Al-Ahmar lost their opening match to Iran 3-0, after which UAE piped them in another 2-1 loss, ending their hopes of making it to the knockout rounds. They got a consolation victory, defeating Qatar 2-1 to end the group in third place.

Head Coach

Miroslav Soukup has done Bahrain a load of good ever since coming in, using his experience to his advantage. The European gaffer has been at the helm of Czech Republic’s youth teams, leading their U-20 national side to a runners-up spot in the 2007 U-20 World Cup. Before that, he won the Bronze medal with the Czech Republic U-19 team at the 2006 UEFA European U-19 Championship. He was also at the helm of the Yemen national team before becoming Bahrain’s head coach and has done a ton of good in improving the Al-Ahmar.

Under Miroslav Soukup, Bahrain have lost only one out of 21 official games till date 

Soukup has won seven out of the 21 official matches Bahrain have played under him, losing just the one game. He’s immersed an impressive attacking style of football into Bahrain, enabling them to pick up some big wins in the past few years. Bahrain operate by playing fluid, effective football under him and he’s created superb chemistry among his attacking individuals. Soukup has immersed a fearless mentality into the squad, which could result in some surprising performances by the Al-Ahmar during the Asian Cup.

Squad

Bahrain are yet to announce their final squad for the tournament, however, they have announced a preliminary squad. Here are the names:

Jassim Al Shaikh, Mahdi Hemaidan, Ahmed Bu Ghammar, Ahmed Merza, Ali Haram, Abdulkareem Al Fardan, Hamad Shamsan, Kumail Al Aswad, Sayed Redha Isa, Mohammed Marhoon, Mahdi Abduljabbar, Mohammed Duaij, Sami Al Hussaini, Ali Madan, Sayed Shubbar Alawi, Ahmed Abdulla, Ibrahim Habeeb, Yousif Habeeb, Waleed Al Hayyam, Jamal Rashid, Ahmed Juma, Abdulwahab Ali, Ashraf Waheed, Mohammed Al Romaihi, Mohammed Al Hardan, Sayed Mahdi Baqer, Sayed Dheya Saeed , Abdulla Yousif.


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Players To Watch

Mahdi Abduljabbar

Abduljabbar had scored four times in his side's AFC Asian Cup qualification campaign

Mahdi Abduljabbar has taken really well to life under coach Soukup and given some bright performances in the past few years. Abduljabbar’s proven to be a clinical, intelligent striker whose led the line really well for his side. He has scored four goals in Bahrain's Asian Cup qualification campaign and terrorized teams during that phase. He’ll be one to keep an eye on and knowing his ability to finish chances and thrive in Soukup’s system. Abduljabbar can be trouble for any opposition.

Sayed Saeed

Saeed has evolved himself into becoming a prominent midfielder for Bahrain over the years and played a pivotal part in their dominant victories under Soukup. Saeed has a decent eye for goal, but has only scored five times for his nation. However, his distribution, ability to maintain control and creativity makes him an asset for Bahrain. He could definitely surprise many with his creativity and intelligence, which will be crucial for Bahrain to go toe-to-toe with their rivals in Group A.

Jamal Rashid

Rashid is one of the most potent attacking threat of Bahrain

Arguably Bahrain’s most potent attacking threat, Jamal Rashid is also one of the more experienced candidates in the side. He’s made a habit of scoring crucial goals, having contributed lavishly in their qualification campaign for the tournament. Rashid has made the left-wing position his own in the team, popping up with goals thanks to his clinical nature.

What To Expect

Bahrain could be the surprise packages of the group, having the ability to blow away opposition with their clinical attack. They could definitely stir up problems for their Group A opponents and a fearless attitude immersed by their coach means they’ll aim high this time.

Published: Fri Dec 21, 2018 07:45 PM IST

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