High-flying Omar lifts Bahrain
Gustavo Zlocewick's men justified their status as the dark horses of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 as they secured second place in Group D and a quarter-final spot with a penalty shoot-out triumph over Nigeria. The architect of the Asian side's finest hour was front-man Abdulla Omar, who shrugged off jet-lag to bag two goals and mastermind a hard-fought win.
"Omar had to go home before the first game because of family problems," explained Zlocewick. "Fortunately, he made it back in time for the match and, as you saw, he played a vital role. We won because we played our hearts out, but we still haven't reached our objective. The boys might think they have but I, for one, want us to keep going," added the coach, who was carried shoulder-high by his players as the celebrations began.
Going into the winner-takes-all encounter, the Bahrainis were pinning their hopes on their star man to see them through. A narrow defeat to Argentina in their second match coupled with Nigeria's stunning escape act against Italy to increase the stakes as the two surprise packages faced off for a place in the last eight. And with the sun beating down fiercely on the Copacabana, they duly put on a dazzling display.
With so much to play for it was hardly surprising to see both teams probing away nervously during the first two periods. Goals from Isiaka Olawale, Bartholomew Ibenegbu, Rashed Salem and Adnan Ebrahim ensured a 2-2 stalemate going into the final period, at which point the game suddenly burst into life.
Nigeria edged into a 3-2 lead only for the Bahrainis to hit back through a quick-fire brace from Omar. When Rashed Salem added a fifth just minutes from time, it looked as if the Africans' number was finally up. Just as they did against Italy though, Kelechi Emeteole's side produced another dramatic fightback that was capped by Uga Okpara's leveller seconds from the final whistle.
Extra-time failed to separate the two sides, and when Ebrahim Hassan gave Bahrain a 4-3 lead in the shoot-out, it fell to Suleiman Usman to keep Nigeria in the hunt. His firmly struck spot-kick evaded replacement keeper Hesam Almannaei in the Bahrain goal but smacked against the post, sparking delirious celebrations among the Asian contingent as they advanced to the quarters at the first time of asking. As the massed ranks in the stands gave both sides a rousing ovation, the plucky Nigerians were left to ponder what might have been.
"We knew we were facing a tough opponent and either one of us could have gone through," mused Emeteole as his brave side bade a sad farewell to the tournament. "They had more luck with the penalties, that's all. You have to remember that we've only been training for three months, and it wasn't easy for us to adapt to the sand. I reckon we could become a very strong outfit in two or three years."
Referees: Michele Conti (ITA), Francisco Sarmiento (ESP), Thomasz Grzelinski (POL)