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As the Bahrain National Football team clinched the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Championship trophy last week, few could have been prouder than the team’s relatively new coach, Hélio Sousa and his squad.
Sousa, who joined as head coach in March this year replacing Miroslav Soukup, was brought in from Portugal to groom the Bahraini boys into top form. Previously having played on Portugal’s 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship team, his coaching career brought him to the helm of the Portuguese Under-20 World Cup 2019 squad just as he took over the coaching spot for Bahrain’s National team.
His FIFA background internationally has helped him inspire and prepare the boys not just for the WAFF championship but also the upcoming double qualifiers.
Sousa, who is in his maiden season coaching the team, said: “The boys have been working really hard. The 23 boys who went to Iraq were in peak form. With support from Shaikh Nasser, as well as the King, we have been able to train well. We have worked on both the offensive and defensive front and the victory was a great showcase of the squad’s prowess. As we go forward, we are going to be perfecting team cohesion and getting the team ready to step up their game even more so we can continue this winning streak all the way through the FIFA qualifiers.”
The confident coach intends to leverage the winning high that the players are on to work even harder to succeed at the double qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and AFC Asia Cup 2023.
The boys won the WAFF Cup last week in an exciting well-matched final game at the Karbala International Stadium. The Bahrain National team beat hosts Iraq 1-0 to clinch the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Championship trophy.
This is the first time since the Cup started in 2000 that the kingdom has won the trophy, despite tying for third place in the last West Asian Cup held in 2014 in Doha.
Isa Al Mousa, converted the sole goal in the game in the 39th minute, assisted by Mohamed Abdulwahab and Mohammed Shaban, shooting past Iraqi goalkeeper Jalal Hachim, through tiny gap inches away from the left goalpost.
Over the game’s final half hour, the Iraqis tried their best to score, repeatedly making shots at the goal but were kept at bay by Bahrain goalkeeper and captain Sayed Mohamed Jaffar. Jaffar made some truly dazzling saves including one at close range in the 88th minute that could have tied the game but Iraqi striker Alaa Abbas was denied his moment with a critical save by the Bahraini captain.
Mousa was quoted as saying that it was a team effort and while honoured to have score the winning goal, he could not have done it without his team.
Bahrain had a near-perfect record in the cup with three victories against Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq and one draw against Saudi Arabia.
This was the fourth time that the kingdom competed in the WAFF cup, which is in its ninth iteration. The tournament kicked off on July 30 with nine teams playing in two groups before the top teams from the groups met in the final.
His Majesty the King’s Representative for Charity Works and Youth Affairs and Chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports (SCYS) Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa received the players upon their return to the kingdom at the Bahrain International Airport and conveyed the King’s message – “His Majesty the King is very proud of your outstanding displays in this regional event and your performance in the final game which won the kingdom the gold medal. We are proud of this victory in such a prestigious football gathering. Bahraini champions have proved once again their worth and their great value. This is a great result for our national team in this continental participation. It’s the beginning of a new chapter of further achievements in the Golden Era of Bahrain’s sports.”
Bahrain Olympic Committee honorary president Shaikh Isa bin Rashid Al Khalifa also congratulated His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa after the victory.
“I commend the players for their dedication and determination, which enabled them to triumph, as well as the contributions of the team’s administrative and technical staff.
“I also extend my congratulations to His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa and His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Premier.”
The squad is now busy preparing for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023, which begin at the end of this month.
But in the meantime, they still found time to celebrate with the kingdom’s kids and citizens at the Joy of Nation festival which was held at the Bahrain National Stadium.
Members of the squad squared off against some of the children at the event for fun games of football while others played a form of blended football and table tennis. As the players mingled with the crowd, it was easy to see how overjoyed their fans were, having seen the boys improve year after year before seizing the trophy.
Speaking of trophies, there was a scrumptious looking cake in the shape of the winning trophy, which came close to mimicking the deliciousness of the victory and the shine of the trophy.
Here’s to hoping that a bakery in Bahrain will be commissioned in the next few months to make a similar cake celebrating the squad’s successful qualification for FIFA and AFC.