It was a very strange time for Portuguese coach Helio Sousa in March 2019 who was handed the role of Bahrain national team head coach as he did not receive a warm welcome from the country's fans as they believed he lacked experiences.
Fast forward to four months later and the team featured in their first tournament under Sousa and they topped their group in the 2019 West Asian Championship after securing wins over Jordan and Kuwait and playing to a draw against Saudia Arabia. They eventually beat host Iraq and won't their debut regional title.
Sousa believes that he had "a good group of players who have proven they can get good results" even though he would have preferred to have been given more time to prepare before the tournament.
"I quickly got to know all of them at the training camp we had in Portugal in July right before the tournament," Sousa said.
"I didn’t have enough time to assess their capabilities fully, but we managed to win the West Asian title after less than two months working with them. That’s a big achievement in itself."
Bahrain continued their top form into Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, most memorable being their 1-0 victory over Iran who were 23rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings in October 2019.
That victory moved Bahrain up to second place in Group C behind front-runners Iraq and Sousa said: "We’ve improved the players’ defensive performances and they’ve shown themselves to be very responsive to our methods. They implemented what we asked them to do, particularly against Iran, when we had our best performance of the qualifiers.”
Bahrain’s three remaining Group C games are against Cambodia, IR Iran and Hong Kong. "There are nine points up for grabs and we’ll do whatever it takes to try and get all nine. Everyone in the squad has assumed their share of responsibility, and they work hard for the national team," the 50-year-old explained.
Bahrain’s games in the Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022
- 5 September 2019: Bahrain 1-1 Iraq
- 10 September 2019: Cambodia 0-1 Bahrain
- 15 October 2019: Bahrain 1-0 IR Iran
- 14 November 2019: Hong Kong 0-0 Bahrain
- 19 November 2019: Iraq 0-0 Bahrain
"We’re experiencing something unique right now but we must think about the next stage. It’s a great time for me and my team.
"The players were great despite all the circumstances we went through because they are semi-professional.”
"We’ve managed to achieve a lot in recent months but we’re still looking for more. We’ve worked very hard to make Bahrain competitive in all tournaments," Sousa concluded.