After being held to a goalless draw at home in the first leg of the AFC-Oceania play-off for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Bahrain face a tall order in New Zealand on 14 November. However, in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, coach Milan Macala insisted the result in Manama was encouraging for both teams.
"Neither of us knew much about the other side before the game, but now we're aware of each others' playing style," he said. "We've watched a number of their friendlies, and obviously they gleaned some information about us from our AFC play-off against Saudi Arabia. That said, I don't know how representative that match really was, as both teams played very cautiously and were afraid to make a mistake."
Asked for his analysis of the first game against the Kiwis, the 66-year-old said: "We were the better side in the second half and created a number of good chances. Probably the best of them fell to Husain Ali and Salman Isa, and I think we were unlucky not to score."
This will be the second time we've contested an intercontinental play-off. I'm convinced we now have the experience to deal with this situation.
Despite not making more of home advantage, Macala is convinced his side's chances remain intact. "There will be plenty of opportunities in the away leg," he opined. "I expect it to be an open game but think that one goal may be enough for us. That said, we never make it easy for ourselves.
"We'll try and get the squad together as early as we can to have more time to acclimatise in Sydney, as that could boost our performance on the day. However, I realise it will be difficult to get our European-based professionals to travel early."
Complicating matters further is the loss of key forward A'ala Hubail, who recently sustained a season-ending injury. "That was very bad news for us as we also face Yemen in the Asian Cup qualifiers four days after the New Zealand game," Macala rued. "Still, that's life and we just have to carry on. A'ala has gone to Germany for an operation so now we're just focusing on who we have available for the away leg."
Macala needed no reminding that in 2006, Bahrain were on the verge of reaching the FIFA Word Cup in Germany, only to lose out to Trinidad and Tobago at this stage of the tournament. "This will be the second time we've contested an intercontinental play-off and we have players in the squad who were there in 2006. I'm convinced we now have the experience to deal with this situation."
"Four years ago everyone believed Bahrain's result in the first leg would be enough to see them through, but Trinidad and Tobago won in Manama to qualify. That's in the past now, but we've learned that for the game in Wellington, the pressure will be on New Zealand to do well on home soil."
Macala concluded our interview on a positive note, saying: "With just one game to negotiate, we now have an historic chance to reach the World Cup. I hope we can realise that dream and I think that is all the incentive the players need. I also sincerely hope luck will be on our side this time."