Those who claim lightning never strikes twice should spare a thought for Bahrain. For the second qualifying tournament in succession, the Gulf state had their dreams of a maiden FIFA World Cup™ appearance shattered in an intercontinental play-off. Back in 2005, having earned a valuable first-leg draw in Port of Spain, Bahrain looked odds-on to secure their passage to Germany 2006 in front of their fans in Manama until a Dennis Lawrence goal handed the prize to Trinidad and Tobago.
On this occasion their opponents were New Zealand and, just as four years ago, the first leg ended all-square. Yet despite having to play the return game in Oceania, many pundits gave the attack-minded Asians every chance of progressing. Fate had other ideas, however, with the villain of the piece on this occasion being striker Rory Fallon, who headed the only goal of the game to send the All Whites through to next year’s showpiece event in South Africa.
FIFA.com caught up with four of the Bahraini players - defenders Sayed Mohamed Adnan and Hussain Baba together with brothers Mohamed and A’ala Hubail - who spoke candidly about the bitter experience of play-off defeat.
For Adnan, who was heavily criticised in the local media after missing a penalty kick early in the second half, the emotions were still very raw: "Missing out on the World Cup has affected all the players, as we all believed we'd get there and have the chance to compete with the world's best in South Africa.” The candidate for Asian Player of the Year 2009 then added ruefully, "I'm distraught I missed that crucial penalty which would have helped us greatly in our quest. I expected to score but luck deserted me. I apologise to the supporters for our failing to qualify but I hope we can make up for that in the very near future."
The 26-year-old experienced a sense of déjà vu afterwards, saying, "When the referee blew the final whistle, it brought the memories of what happened in 2005 flooding back. It's sad that we've experienced disappointment in the play-offs again."
For his part Husain Baba felt his side had played well enough to go through, and said, "Defeat was a body blow to all of us. Everyone had illusions of qualifying and playing at the World Cup, but just as in 2005 our dreams have been shattered. We were 90 minutes away from Germany in 2006, and 90 minutes away from South Africa. We've been so close twice and we all regret missing out, but I hope we'll get over our disappointment soon."
Mohamed Hubail, meanwhile, believed luck had once again deserted his team. "We created numerous chances but weren't able to score the one goal that would have taken us to the finals. We missed several easy chances in the first leg which prevented us from taking a lead and a psychological advantage into the return game."
Misery from the head
The midfielder also spoke of the similarities between the 2005 and 2009 play-offs, saying, "Twice we’ve been beaten in the play-offs with a header, the first by Dennis Lawrence and the second by Rory Fallon. History has repeated itself and we’ve lost again and in the same manner."
Perhaps the player most affected of all was A'ala Hubail, who missed the return leg with an injury. He revealed that he was devastated when told he would have to watch the return game in Wellington from the dugout. The 2004 AFC Asian Cup top-scorer said, "My thoughts were with the players but I really wanted to be out there with them for this decisive game. Unfortunately, though, injury ruled me out. We all made mistakes that lead to the defeat, but we mustn’t single out anyone in particular."
The front man finished on a positive note, saying, "I hope we'll have a slice of luck in the next qualifiers and again vie for a place at the finals. Being able to compete for such a prize is clear evidence of the improvement in Bahraini football. Now we must try harder to realize the dreams of the Bahraini people who stood with us and supported us every step of the way."