Hosts Bahrain kept their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ hopes alive by holding Saudi Arabia to a goalless draw in the first-leg of the Asian Zone qualifying play-off match. The two neighbouring Gulf states will now meet on Wednesday for the second-leg in Riyadh and the winner will take on Oceania champions New Zealand for a place at South Africa 2010.
Saudi Arabia were lucky to get away on level terms after having been at the receiving end for most of the second-half. Bahrain should have sealed this match by at least a three-goal margin, which would have boosted their chances of booking a berth in a maiden FIFA World Cup. But lack of firepower when it mattered most undid all their good work.
Bahrain created more chances, keeping Saudi goalkeeper Ali Waleed busy. The Saudis, who are bidding for a fifth successive FIFA World Cup slot, enjoyed better possession, but missed key striker Naif Hazazi, who is out for close to six months through injury. Striker Yasser Al Qahtani had the team's best chance midway through the first-half, but his move down the centre was firmly halted.
Bahrain began on a positive note with the tall Sayed Mohammed Adnan striking the near post with a trademark shot. Ahmed Hussain kept up the pressure, beating defenders Abdulla Shuhail and Osama Hawsawi in the penalty area, but his shot lacked pace and direction.
Adnan was back in the thick of the action with a powerful long-ranger which was well tipped over by goalkeeper Waleed. The Bahrainis kept pressing and pushing forward, but continued to run out of steam when it came to making that vital final move.
The same pattern continued in the second-half with Bahrain proving more dangerous and determined, while the Saudis seemed content to play within themselves and not concede anything. Bahrain came closest to scoring in the 55th minute when the hardworking Salman Isa made a clever move down the left and advanced into the penalty area with a cunning change of pace. But Latif Ismaeel failed to connect his centre with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Bahrain continued to threaten and in injury time came agonizingly close to making the breakthrough. But this time substitute Jaycee John's attempt struck goalkeeper Waleed's leg and went wide of the far post.