AFC Asian Cup 2019: What you need to know before India v Bahrain
The Indian Football team has performed exceptionally well in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 so far, with a dazzling win over Thailand and a narrow loss to the United Arab Emirates. Stephan Constantine’s men have shown unity and desire in extremely demanding conditions, which has seen them win the hearts of every Indian fan. However, the only thing standing between them and history is the final group game: it all boils down to the all-important group finale against Bahrain, which is scheduled to be held on 14th January at the legendary Sharjah Stadium.
The Reds, who were once amongst the Top 50 footballing nations, have certainly gone through some harsh phases and are currently ranked 102nd by FIFA. Formed in 1951, the team never played in FIFA World Cup but came close in 2004 and 2010. Their dream was broken by Trinidad & Tobago and New Zealand respectively. Their best AFC Asian Cup campaign came in 2004, where they secured a fourth-place finish after a defeat against Iran. They reached the finals of Arabian Gulf Cup on four occasions, but never emerged as winners.
Since 2016, Bahrain is managed by the Czech coach Miroslav Soukup. Previous to this job, Soukup was in charge of Yemen and the age-level teams of Egypt and the Czech Republic. He has also managed clubs like 1. FC Slovacko and Dynamo Ceske Budejovice. Soukup uses a 4-5-1 formation with Bahrain, with more strength in midfield and a central focal point up front.
Bahrain’s current form has been soothing for their fans since Soukup’s men have won their last three friendlies quite comfortably. In addition to that, they scored 10 goals in those three games while conceding none. The Reds have lost only two games in 2018 and both defeats were suffered at the hands of Oman. They have however collected only 1 point in the AFC Asian Cup so far, drawing against UAE and suffering a shocking 1-0 defeat at the hands of Thailand.
Three players to watch out for
The main pillar of their rock-solid defense is Waleed Al Hayam, the 27-year-old defender who plays for Bahraini club Al Muharraq Sports Club. Having represented his nation 46 times, he is Bahrain’s most experienced defender.
Talking about experience, we have to mention Sayed Dhiya Saeed, the 26-year-old midfielder who has earned 66 caps for his nation, making him the second-most experienced player of their squad. The Al-Nasr Sporting Club midfielder has scored 5 goals for his country.
Their main source of goals is Sami Al-Husaini, the prolific 29-year-old striker. Representing East Riffa Club in the club level, Al-Husaini has scored 7 goals for his nation in 53 games, the most by any player in the current Bahrain squad. However, it will be interesting to see whether he starts or Mohamed Al Romaihi, the other attacking alternative who has already found the net twice in just eight appearances, is selected ahead of the trusted veteran.
Veteran Sayed Shubbar Alawi is expected to take the role of the last line of defense for Bahrain. The four men standing in front of him might be Waleed Al Hayam, Sayed Baqer, Sayed Redha Isa and Ahmed Abdulla. Their defense has a great combination of youth and experience, with veterans Al Hayam and Abdulla guiding young blood Baqer and Isa.
The five-man midfield is expected to be composed of Sayed Dhiya Saeed, Abdulwahab Al-Safi, Ali Madan, Komail Al Aswad, and Jamal Rashid. Saeed might prove to be a source of goals, while the 23-year-old youngster Ali Madan has scored 3 goals so far in his 17-matches long international career. Sami Al-Husaini, the veteran striker is expected to be the last piece of the puzzle, however, Soukup can also pass the baton to Mohamed Al Romaihi.
Head-to-head record against India
India has a very poor record with Bahrain. In five occasions they have met thus far, the boys in blue were subjected to humiliation. The only time they put up a fight against Bahrain was way back in 1982, where the game ended in a 0-0 draw, but after that, it has been four straight losses. The last encounter was in 2011 when Bahrain put five past India to beat them 5-2.
Though Bahrain might be lacking behind India in terms of ranking, it’d be foolish to judge their quality by merely looking at a number. Statistics suggest that Bahrain will get an easy win against India, but on the flip side, the Indians have also improved a lot over the past few years. It would be safe to say that the current bunch is more courageous and exposed than the one that suffered a heavy 5-2 defeat back in 2011. Hence, it looks like an evenly balanced encounter, and I will predict a draw.