Bahrain are flying high in the qualifiers for Qatar 2022
Midfielder Abdulwahab Al Malood puts that down to the players' experience
Meeting with IR Iran will be a special one for him
Bahrain have twice come close to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™, reaching the intercontinental play-offs in the qualifiers for Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010, losing to Trinidad and Tobago and New Zealand respectively.
The generation that contested those two play-offs was a golden one for the country, with the likes of Alaa Hubail, Ali Husein Baba and Mohamed Salmeen leading the way. Today, more than a decade on from their exploits, the Reds’ new breed are pushing for world finals qualification once more.
Bahrain currently lie second in Group C of the Asian qualifying competition for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, having recorded two wins and three draws in their five matches to date. They have three more games ahead of them in their bid to make it to the third round.
Their Portuguese coach Helio Sousa is banking on the players that won the West Asian Football Federation Championship and the Arabian Gulf Cup in 2019 to complete the job and take Bahrain to the world finals for the first time in their history. Among his most seasoned campaigners is veteran attacking midfielder Abdulwahab Al Malood, who is appearing in his third consecutive World Cup preliminaries.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, he compared the current qualification push with Bahrain’s two previous attempts.
“We prepared really well for the preliminaries and we’re really motivated too, with a new, experienced and intelligent coach,” said Al Malood. “We also have lots of ambition after winning the WAFF Championship and the Gulf Cup. In previous qualifying competitions, we lacked the experience we needed to take on the big teams.”
Bahrain take on Cambodia in their next match in Group C this coming Thursday. Four days later they meet IR Iran before playing Hong Kong in their final match in the section on 15 June.
Next Monday’s meeting with IR Iran will be a special one for Al Malood, who made his FIFA World Cup qualifiers debut against the same opponents in 2011. That match, part of the Brazil 2014 preliminaries, ended in a 1-1 draw.
Recalling that game and Bahrain’s 1-0 defeat of the Iranians on Matchday 4 in Group C, Al Malood said: “I remember the fans having a big part to play in the 2011 game, but the Iranians came back to draw. In the latest game between us, we managed to hold on to our lead thanks to the enthusiasm of the crowd and the experience of the players.
“We’re now looking to kick on and win our next three matches. They’re all vital for us and we’ll be aiming to beat Iran again.”
Al Malood is also hoping to find the back of the net in those three games, just as he did against Philippines and Yemen in the qualifiers for Russia 2018, though it is not his main objective, as he explained: “I look to score in every game I play, but the biggest thing for me is helping the team to win and making a contribution, whether it’s by scoring goals or providing assists.”
That team spirit and confidence are the defining features of the current Bahrain line-up. Al Malood said coach Sousa, who took up the job in March 2019, deserves praise for instilling those characteristics in the team and for his work so far.
“The coach has given the players specific roles on the pitch,” said Al Malood. “The most important thing is that he has a lot of confidence in the players, which is allowing us to perform to our best on the pitch. Sousa has a lot of ambition and that’s rubbed off on us.”
The first objective for Sousa and his players is to reach the third round of the Asian qualifiers and go one step further than the generation that reached two consecutive intercontinental play-offs. In their bid to make it to Qatar 2022, Bahrain are hoping it is a case of third time lucky.
“We want to finish off the job started by our predecessors and help hoist the flag of the Kingdom of Bahrain high. If we all pull together, we can fulfil our dream of reaching the World Cup.”