Bahrain make massive leap
© AFP

Among a host of Asian teams that made massive leaps in the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking in July, Bahrain stood out as they soared 12 places.

However, this is not the first time that the Gulf country has left its mark on the global pecking order. Back in 2003, the small nation was crowned the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking Best Movers.

Despite recently crashing out of the AFC Asian Cup 2007 after the group stage, the team should still be able to draw inspiration from their impressive rise up in the Ranking. For the constantly improving nation, the development of the game may sometimes ebb and flow. but like the Gulf tide it will never cease.

Ground breaking
Winning the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking Best Movers award kick-started a new era for football in the country which has seen them make sustained progress ever since.

In only their second appearance at the Asian Cup finals three years ago, the team shocked the watching world as they came from nowhere to storm into the semi-finals, with marksman A'ala Hubail finishing as the joint top scorer with four goals together with Iranian midfielder Ali Karimi.

With a host of young talens having come of age, the team went on to pull off further surprises when they saw off Central Asian giants Uzbekistan to set up a two-legged play-off against Trinidad and Tobago for a berth at 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.

Holding the CONCACAF representatives to 1-1 in the opening match away from home, they went into the decisive return fixture with a significant advantage. However, their lack of international experience took its toll as they fell at the last hurdle, losing the crunch tie by a single goal.

But having come within whisker of booking their first ever place at the FIFA World Cup finals, few denied that the team were establishing themselves as an emerging Asian power.

Asian Cup lessons
With most Asian powerhouses going through a transitional period with an injection of new talent before this year's Asian Cup, coach Milan Macala found that he stuck with the nucleus of the squad that reached the semi-finals in 2004.

Having overcome their Gulf neighbours Kuwait to qualify for this year's Asian Cup from a difficult group dominated by Australia, Bahrain's were hoping to emulate their achievements of three years ago. However, a 2-1 defeat at the hands of co-hosts Indonesia, a victory over Korea Republic by the same scoreline and a 4-0 loss to an unstoppable Saudi Arabia ruined their chances of making the knockout phase.

"I believe that the problem was not in today's match," a disappointed Macala commented after their demolition by Saudi Arabia. "We missed 12 players and you simply can't find replacements from Bahrain league as you might have in Saudi League.

"Everyone saw that the Saudi Arabia national team changed nearly all their players as they have a strong league with five or six top teams. But in Bahrain we can't find replacements easily."

With the lessons learned from this Asian Cup, Macala believes that the key to future success is to find and develop young talents. "This generation has given a lot of good results for Bahrain football. But we must now try to find fresh blood that can be the future of Bahraini football."