Bahrain will have an opportunity to display their progress to a broad audience early next year when they compete in the AFC Asian Cup. It is tournament at which they have previously excelled, having finished fourth in 2004 – a result that in hindsight prove a portent of the nation’s looming achievements in World Cup qualifying.
Can Bahrain once again reach those highs? The challenge is even greater now with next year’s tournament in the United Arab Emirates enlarged to 24 teams, and greater depth across the world’s most populous continent.
“We have the right management and board members that can make the national team a big force in the Gulf,” former national team striker Jaycee John said during the tail-end of Asian Cup qualifying campaign. “I think we can do that in one or two years because this generation of players they are very, very good.”
Recent results suggest Bahrain are on the right track. Since mid-2017 the side, with experienced Czech Miroslav Soukup at the helm, has lost just twice in 13 outings.
It will be far from easy in UAE for Bahrain, who have been drawn to tackle the host nation in the tournament opener, before further group-stage outings against the under-rated Thailand and India.
“We have a very interesting group,” said Soukup. “We’re playing against the hosts in the opening game in front of 50,000 to 60,000 spectators, it will be great for our team.
“People are saying that our group is not difficult, but whoever qualified to the Asian Cup finals are strong and they have quality.”