Bahrain keep maiden ti­tle hopes alive with 4-2 win

A win over Kuwait saw Bahrain seal their place in the last-four stage; Sousa’s side will play Group A top­pers Iraq in semis

Gulf Times - Gulf Times Sport - - FRONT PAGE - By Sa­han Bi­dappa

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 semi­fi­nal.

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 alFad­hel 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.

PIC­TURES: Jayan Orma

Bahrain’s Ali Madan (left) in ac­tion with Kuwait’s Amer al-Fad­hel dur­ing the Ara­bian Gulf Cup match yes­ter­day.

Bahrain play­ers cel­e­brate their vic­tory over Kuwait yes­ter­day.

Bahrain’s Thi­ago Au­gusto (cen­tre) scored a brace yes­ter­day.

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