If the Asian Cup had taken place immediately after the qualifying stage, Bahrain would be in a much stronger position.
In the space of eleven months, though, Bahrain have collapsed. They’ve gone through three coaches, crashed out of the Gulf Cup bottom of their group, and up until the last friendly of the year (on the 30th of December), had only scored five goals in the entire calendar year.
It all started when Ricki Herbert stepped down from the New Zealand job. At the time, Anthony Hudson, who has links to some of the top managers, including Jose Mourinho, had been doing a fine job with Bahrain. He’d taken them through a seamless qualifying campaign, in which they conceded just once in six games, and had been gradually implementing a more positive brand of football.
The New Zealand job was too tempting, however, and when New Zealand signed Hudson Bahrain turned to Adnan Hamad. Hamad had experience in Asia but lasted just seven games, sacked after a resounding 3-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia in the second game of the Gulf Cup.
His assistant, Marjan Eid, became caretaker for the final match of the Gulf Cup and eventually got the job full-time. Little is known about him, however, and he’s had minimal time to work with the squad to implement changes. Given that he worked under Hamad, it is feasible to imagine he will continue with the approach of his predecessor.
That approach is, broadly speaking, defensive. Bahrain use a 4-2-3-1 formation that could also be termed 4-4-1-1, with the wide players asked to track back into what can be very deep positions. That gives the full-backs, Rashed Al-Horti and Mohamed Mahorfi, lots of protection – helpful, as they’re not the greatest of defenders.
At centre-back, Eid can rely on a pair of experienced defenders – Mohamed Husain and Abdulla Al-Hazaa form a reliable partnership, with the former, the captain, having made 90 appearances for his country. Goalkeeper Sayad Jaafar is another veteran, with 2015 marking a decade since his international debut. He was sensational in the Gulf Cup with a string of top saves.
Bahrain’s cautious approach is summed up by the fact 6 of their 13 games in 2014 were 0-0 draws, and another three with finished with a 1-0 scoreline. Don’t expect entertainment: after such turmoil over the past twelve months, their focus will solely be on keeping things tight.
That was come at an obvious cost to their attack. Bahrain went goalless at the Gulf Cup, and as aforementioned, struggled to score throughout 2014 – in fact, the 4-1 friendly win over Saudi Arabia in Geelong on the second last day of 2014 nearly doubled the amount of goals scored in 2014.
The star of the game was Ismaeel Abdulatif, who scored a brace and is now very close to becoming the country’s all-time leading goalscorer. Abdulatif has impressed in recent months after being handed an extended run in the starting XI at the expense of naturalised Nigerian-born forward Jaycee John.
Supporting him in attack will be Abdulwahad Al-Malood on the right (though he can also play on the left). Al-Malood is a tricky customer who launches into purposeful forward dribbles, however, he’s inconsistent with his end product.
On the left, Faouzi Aaish has returned to the squad under Eid after being left out for disciplinary reasons under Hamad, and is also capable of playing multiple positions. He looks likely to play from the left, however, where he, too, has been in goalscoring form – he netted the only goal in a 1-0 friendly win over Jordan in the early days of 2015.
Bahrain aren’t a terrible side, and two friendly wins in the past week offer hope for improvement on the dismal form they showed at the Gulf Cup of Nations. These aren’t great players, though, and if they are to progress, it’ll be through scrappy, defensive 1-0 wins over the superior sides in their group.