Hosts Bahrain kept their World Cup dream alive by beating Uzbekistan 1-0 in a lively but scrappy Group A encounter here Wednesday.
It left Bahrain to finish third in the group, thus sealing a playoff place. Bahrain will now face Saudi Arabia, who finished third in Group B.
The winner of that playoff will clash with New Zealand, the winner of the Occeania Zone, to decide who wins the right to go to the showpiece event in South Africa next year.
Mahmood Abdulrahman scored the all important goal in the 74th minute with a stunning free-kick from about 30 yards which curled and buried itself in the top corner of the net leaving the Uzbek goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov stranded.
Bahrain were reduced to 10 men four minutes later following a red card to Abdulla Marzooqi. The defender was send off after players from both sides clashed after a foul on Bahrain’s Abdulla Omar.
But Bahrain hung on and defended stoutly to pull off a deserved victory and finish third in this group with 10 points. Uzbekistan, who needed a victory to stay in the campaign, finished last on four points, two behind Qatar.
Australia and Japan have already booked the two automatic berths from this group. The Aussies topped the group with 20 points following a 2-1 victory over Japan, who finished second on 15, in the day’s other match in the same group.
Bahrain coach Milan Macala later attributed the victory to some fine teamwork and tremendous support shown by fans and officials.
“It was a very difficult week as we had so much to do. We traveled to Sydney and came back and had very little time to plan,” the 64-year-old Czech tactician said.
“We had some very important moments in the first-half but we missed at least four good chances. That gave Uzbekistan a chance to go for victory.
“But in the second-half everything changed. Abdulrahman came in as a substitute and controlled the game well before scoring for us. I thank the players, officials and fans for all the support. It helped us a lot in our aim to qualify.”
Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasimov was graceful in defeat and admitted Bahrain played better and deserved a place in the next round.
“We made a lot of mistakes and the weather was awful for us,” said Kasimov, who was the captain of the team when Uzbekistan lost to Bahrain in the final Asian zone playoff on the away goal rule four years ago.
“The player who scored the goal, the No. 13 (Abdulrahman) changed everything. He was brilliant. He converted a good chance into a great goal.
“It decided everything. Even if Edwin Van Der Sar (Manchester United goalkeeper) was in goal, he could not have stopped it.”
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