Bahrain: Srecko Juricic (CRO)
Iran: Branco Ivankovic (CRO)
Stalemate at Manama
Bahrain 0-0 Iran
BAHRAIN were held to a goalless draw by Iran in their opening Group B match of the 2006 World Cup second qualifying round at the National Stadium. Playing in front of a capacity crowd of 30,000 cheering spectators
The thick humidity at Bahrain National Stadium at Manama didnâ€™t prevent the two sides putting on a relentless show, though it was a hard-fought rather than entertaining game. Despite the absence of Aala Hubail, top scorer with five goals in last yearâ€™s Asian Cup, host team Bahrain again proved they were equal to a star-studded Iran after holding the Persians to a goalless draw.
This draw left group top seeds Japan sitting on top of group B after the opening round, while coach Branko Ivankovicâ€™s much fancied side will have a more difficult assignment when they host Japan in Teheran on March 25th. With the talismanic Ali Daei, mercurial Ali Karimi and Bayern Munich forward, Vahid â€śHelicopterâ€ť Hashemian up front, Iran had best of the early play and attacked from start to finish. But always keeping five players behind the ball, well-organized Bahrain defended gallantly, and occasionally threatened Ebrahim Mirzapourâ€™s goal when they broke.
After the early exchanges though Iran took the initiative, while Bahrain were reduced to long balls and shots from distance. Karimiâ€™s dizzying dribbling beat two Bahrain defenders before he was fouled by Mahmood Jalal, but the resulting free kick was deflected over. Ebrahim Mirzapour was called into action on 28 minutes to display his reflexes. When a sudden rebound landed dangerously in Iranâ€™s final third, Mirzapour flew out to snatch the loose ball. Two minutes before the break, Javad Nekounam unleashed a powerful drive that flew just wide.
Both sides upped the pace in the second half in search of the opener, but produced few good chances. Bahrain looked like they might have scored the only goal after 81 minutes, but Mohamed Hubail, brother of the absent Aala, fired a blistering shot into the side-netting.
"It was a very important match for us. But we missed a good chance of making a winning start," said Bahrain coach Srecko Juricic of Croatia.
"Such matches require great concentration and experience. It was a tactical game and our players played well. Bahrain created more scoring opportunities while Iran showed a good defence and I think the result is fair," added Juricic.
"I am quite satisfied with the overall performance of my players and look forward for our next match against North Korea for which we have a different strategy," added Juricic.
Iran's coach Branco Ivankovic , also of Croatia, said the match was very tough for both the teams.
"Bahrain is a strong team and we tried to find a way through their defence but it was not possible," said Branco.
"It was a very tense and dynamic match although both Bahraini and Iranian players managed to hold their nerve," added Branco.