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Transition complicates Bahrain’s knockout prospects

ahrain dominated their qualifying group to secure a fourth consecutive AFC Asian Cup finals appearance

Published: Updated:

Thanks to a tough group, a dip in form and the struggle to settle under their third coach in five months, Bahrain’s prospects of advancing to the Asian Cup knockout stage appear similar to that of rainfall in the Gulf country -- minimal.

Bahrain dominated their qualifying group to secure a fourth consecutive AFC Asian Cup finals appearance with two games to spare before the wheels came off.

It started with Englishman Anthony Hudson’s shock exit to take over as the New Zealand head coach, which led to 2004 AFC Coach of the Year Adnan Hamad’s appointment on a two-year term that was cut short in November after Bahrain’s dismal start to the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations campaign.

Hamad’s deputy Marjan Eid took charge of the team who played out a goalless draw with Qatar to finish bottom of their group.

Bahrain, who made their Asian Cup finals debut in 1988 and registered their best finish in 2004 when they finished fourth, are eying a place in the knockout stage for only the second time but that would require something special from ‘The Red’.

Snatching a point from Asian heavyweights Iran in their Jan. 11 Group C opener in Melbourne would be a good start for the 122nd ranked Bahrain, who subsequently lock horns with Gulf Cup of Nations champions Qatar and dark horse the United Arab Emirates.

“The Iran national team is the strongest team in the group,”Bahrain Football Association president Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa Sheikh Ali said recently.

“We’ll try to get at least a point out of this game, it’s quite important and, normally, the first games in all the tournaments are important,” Fairfax Media quoted the member of Bahrain’s royal family as saying.

Bahrain will rely on the experience of captain Mohammad Salmeen, a member of their 2004 squad, and forward Ismail Abdul-Latif who will be making his third successive Asian Cup finals appearance.

Eid has also brought back star midfielder Faouzi Aaish, who was excluded by Adnan for disciplinary reasons.

Bahrain also boast of a sturdy defence, having conceded only one goal in six qualifying matches.

“Ranking wise, we are the least of the group,” Sheikh Ali added.

“That doesn’t mean anything in football... football is all about effort and hard work and the team has done that.”