Striker Ismail nets winner as Bahrain make history

EVER since Englishman Peter Taylor took over the reins of Bahrain in July, there has been a sweeping change in their fortunes.

The first sign of it came at the inaugural GCC Championship in October, when the hosts emerged as champions by beating formidable Saudi Arabia 3-1 in the final.

Further proof of it came in Doha, last week, when Bahrain clinched their first Arab Games gold, beating Jordan 1-0 in the final at the Al Sadd Stadium. Striker Ismail Abdullatif netted the winner in the 88th minute.

Jordan, the champions in 1997 and ’99, had briefly threatened to add a third title, but Bahrain held firm. Ismail netted his third goal of the tournament and the most important one after cashing in on a defensive lapse from Suleiman Al Salman.

A major credit for Bahrain’s renaissance goes to Taylor, the former England coach, who made drastic changes to the side. His philosophy was simple. To build a team for the future without giving in to the sentiments.

“We need a blend of youth and experience. Experience is good, but it isn’t good to have too many senior players,” Taylor had remarked candidly after the group match against Qatar, where the visitors rallied to earn a 2-2 draw.

Bahrain had come to Doha with a relatively young squad, which comprised many Under-23 players who were part of the successful GCC campaign.

It was those youngsters who vindicated Taylor’s faith by playing a key role in Bahrain’s 3-0 victory against Iraq in the group stage and 3-1 win over surprise semifinalists Palestine.

“Everyone’s effort has paid off — players, coach, technical team and the managerial staff. Jordan’s energy was consumed in their semifinal against Kuwait (2-0 win in extra time). We took advantage of that as well as the confusion among their defenders,” said Ismail, who was the toast of team-mates in the final.

Bahrain’s 2014 World Cup qualification hopes still hang in the balance. But even if they do not make it to Brazil, they can look forward to a bright future, as echoed by Taylor.

“We’ve a group of new players and building a team takes its own time. We’re progressing steadily and the fitness levels of players are improving after every match. We’re proud to have won two tournaments in two months’ time,” he added.

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