Group A: Malaysia 1-3 Bahrain
Taipei: An extraordinary last-gasp goal from captain Mohamed Al Sandi helped secure Bahrain a historic AFC Futsal Championship quarter-final place after they defeated Malaysia 3-1 to take the runners-up place on goal difference in Group A on Monday.
Having only won just one match in their entire AFC Futsal Championship history, Bahrain – playing in just their second edition of the tournament – will now take part in Thursday’s last eight along with Group A winners Vietnam, with their opponents on the night, and hosts Chinese Taipei missing out.
All four sides from Group A had a chance to qualify for the knockout stages ahead of Monday’s ties, but Bahrain put themselves in the driving seat at University of Taipei Gymnasium after taking the lead inside the opening three minutes, as Ahmed Abdulnabi back-flicked in an acrobatic volley from Mohamed Al Sandi’s headed cross from the left.
And the same player repeated the trick to double the advantage, latching onto a long, high ball forward from the back to direct an angled drive across Firdaus Razli into the opposite corner.
Needing at least a point to remain in the quarter-finals reckoning, Malaysia responded but Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Mohamed remained resolute as the score remained 2-0 at the interval.
The Southeast Asians cranked up the pressure on Mohamed’s goal after the restart and Yazid Kamaruzuan hit the base of the Bahrain upright four minutes into the second half.
It was not all one-way traffic, though, and Firdaus had to be on his toes to perform a fine double save from Al Sandi and then a third block to keep out Falah Abbas on the rebound.
Bahrain then suffered a blow with 12 minutes remaining as their custodian, who had been among their stand-outs in the match, was stretchered off with an injury to be replaced by Sayed Fadhel.
With time ticking down, Malaysia turned to the power play in an attempt to reduce the deficit and the move paid dividends as on the 33rd minute Syed Aizad rocketed home a fierce drive into the top right-hand corner of the net.
But the outfield man advantage also ultimately proved their undoing, albeit in spectacular fashion as with less than a minute to go the ball broke to Al Sandi just outside his own area and the number 8 sent a powerful, looping effort all the way into the unguarded net to spark frenzied celebrations amongst the Bahrain players.
And just 30 seconds later there was even greater scenes of joy for the West Asians with the final whistle bringing news of Vietnam’s 3-1 win over Chinese Taipei and with it the knowledge of a maiden quarter-final appearance.
Adel Abdulrahman: Bahrain Head Coach
"Thank God that we made the last eight. I am very happy for my team and my players, especially those who are playing for the national team for the first time. I am so happy for the development of futsal in Bahrain, now we can say we are among the top teams in Asia. We were working hard the last two, three days to ensure the players focused on our match. No matter what happened in the other game (between Chinese Taipei and Vietnam) we had to win our own game. We wanted to show Asia that Bahrain is coming. I didn’t know the score in the other game until the last two minutes of our match, then I heard Vietnam was winning 2-1. So when we scored our third goal, I knew we had qualified. For the quarter-finals, Japan are a strong team, we know that. They are among the top three in Asia, they have good players. We will prepare for them differently. We have to fight more and prepare ourselves more than ever before."
Chiew Chun Yong: Malaysia Head Coach
"I predicted that Group A would not be easy, as some people said before the tournament, because the AFC Futsal Championship is a different level from regional tournaments. I told my boys to prepare well for this tournament and, of course, we wanted to qualify for the knockout stage. We got off to a good start in the campaign by winning against Vietnam, but we didn’t take our chance to beat Chinese Taipei. I am not happy to not qualify for the quarter-final stage, it’s not a good result, for sure. There’s a lot of things we need to work on, but there’s a lot of young players in this team and they need more time to grow together."