Bahrain will be pinning their hopes on home advantage when they clash with bitter rivals and neighbours Saudi Arabia on Saturday in the first-leg of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying play-off clash.

The winner of this two-legged match will then clash with Oceania champions New Zealand for a place in the finals in South Africa.

The two Gulf states are familiar but fierce foes having frequently clashed at regional and continental levels. But the Saudis have almost always got the better of their rivals, including in high stake FIFA World Cup qualifiers the most recent of which was in 2001 when they drew 1-1 at home and won 4-0 away.

But this time around the general consensus is that the two teams are on an even footing with Bahrain having made handsome gains in the last few months and Saudi Arabia suffering some serious setbacks, including failing to gain an automatic berth at the FIFA World Cup.

This is also reflected in the latest FIFA rankings where Bahrain, who are yet to play in a FIFA World Cup, are ranked 64th, one place ahead of the Saudis who are bidding for a fifth successive spot in the showpiece event.

Bahrain coach Milan Macala, however, is not getting carried away by this statistic or even his team's recent victories over Kenya and, more significantly, Asian powerhouse Iran in friendly matches following a month-long training camp in Austria.

After all, the 65-year-old Czech veteran knows his opponents well having coached them in the past and, more importantly, is well aware of his own team's capacity to fall agonisingly short when it matters the most. "The Saudis are a strong team. They are one of the best in Asia and have a number of class players," said Macala.

I think the result of the first leg will play an important role in deciding the ultimate winner. Our aim is to win here at home and make the best of it later,

Bahrain coach Milan Macala.

"We will have a tough match, no doubt about it, but I think the result of the first leg will play an important role in deciding the ultimate winner. Our aim is to win here at home and make the best of it later."

Saudi Arabia's build up to this crucial clash has not been as encouraging as their opponents. A week-long training camp in Oman ended on a bitter note with the Saudis losing a friendly match 2-1 against the hosts.

The Saudi coach Jose Peseiro of Portugal has also had to deal with a serious injury problem with key striker Naif Hazazi ruled out for more than six months following a ligament injury during a friendly against the Malaysian under-23 side.

Hazazi has been replaced by Malek Maaz who will now have to work with midfielders Mohammed Noor and Mohammed Al Shalhoub to find a way past the Bahrain defence. Bahrain have no injury worries and the only player missing from the regular line-up is defender Abdulla Al Marzooqi who is serving a one-match ban.

This eagerly awaited match will be played late in the evening, starting at 10pm local time, due to fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

But both the sides can expect good crowd support. Macala has already urged Bahrainis, through the local media, to come and support their team while a large number of Saudis are expected to travel through the King Fahd Causeway to back their side.