Truly, the Kingdom of Bahrain has been in the thick of things of late as far as sports is concerned. Be it Formula 1 or football, with the beautiful game being featured both on and off the field.From Shaikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa being elected as the new Asian Football Confederation president to the Bahrain Women’s Senior National Team locking horns with their Indian counterparts at the football stadium in Riffa for two international friendlies ahead of their AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers – also in the island country – it’s time to shift attention from the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir and look south.
“It’s football time in Bahrain,” Abdulla Brlla, the goalkeeping coach of the Bahrain Women’s National Team exclaimed, smiling.
“It’s great to see so much of football action in this part of the world. We play our AFC (Women’s) Cup Qualifiers Group matches here and also two friendlies against India. It is superb. Also, the AFC President is our very own ex-President Shaikh Salman (former President of Bahrain Football Association).”
“He is just 43 and is very dynamic. No wonder he is where he is today,” added Brlla.
Bahrain are in Group C along with Vietnam, Hong Kong and Kyrgyzstan. They play all of their group engagements at the picturesque National Stadium in Riffa, which is the second largest city of Bahrain.
The Indian Women’s Senior National Team, placed in Group D along with Myanmar, Chinese Taipei and Palestine, will be travelling to Palestine after playing the two international friendlies against the hosts tomorrow and on Thursday, May 16.
On the eve of their first friendly, National Coach Anadi Barua said, “Bahrain are a good side. They will be playing at home, which adds to their advantage. But I am looking at it in a different way. We will be playing Palestine in their own den too. Myanmar and Chinese Taipei won’t be pushovers too by any stretch of imagination. So tough friendlies will toughen the girls and help me assess each and every one better.”
Anadi Barua continued, “See, friendlies give you a chance to have a look at almost every player. We are playing two of them, which is great. It is a great initiative on the part of the All India Football Federation to firstly organise a one-month camp for the girls and then two friendlies before such an important tourney.”
Senior most player in the side, Oinam Bembem Devi, stressed on the importance of the AFC Women’s Cup qualifiers.
“It is a very important assignment for us. We are in a tricky group. We cannot take our feet off the pedal at any moment. We have been playing some good football of late. We won the SAFF (Women’s) Cup handsomely, and then beat the Combined Dutch (Youth) Team too in Navi Mumbai. But this is the real test. Away from known conditions and playing stronger opponents, it will be a real test of our character.”
Bembem Devi, who led India to glory in the 2012 SAFF Women’s Championships in Colombo, was not a part of the team which beat the Combined Dutch Youth Team in an exhibition match in Navi Mumbai this January. But the former India captain will be a key figure in India’s surge to qualify for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup next year.
Full-back Tuli Goon will be leading the pack for the first-time.
“It’s a great feeling to lead the Indian National Team. At the same time, you are given lot of responsibilities as well. Expectations rest on you. You have to deliver and I am fully focused on that. We have to get a positive result this time in the Qualifiers, Goon quipped.
India beat Bahrain 2-1 in a three-match series back in September 2011. Recollecting the reversals, Bahrain Head Coach Maher Abu Hantash said, “India are a very good side. They beat us the last time we played them. We have to put our best foot forward as a smiliar result will be a morale damper for our girls.”
The Indian Team rehearsed under floodlights at the Football Stadium for an hour with tomorrow’s match to kick-off at 8:30pm IST.
(Report & Photo courtesy AIFF Media)