Coach backs Bahrain to bask in glory next year

Dubai: Coach Miroslav Soukup is backing his Bahrain team to shine on the continental stage when the UAE play host to the 2019 Asian Cup here from January 5 to February 1.

Soukup was appointed as head coach for the Gulf nation in July 2016, and since then Bahrain have done reasonably well while building up a squad for the future. Since March 2016, the national team has played 18 matches, winning six and drawing eight while losing just four times.

Now ranked 116 on the Fifa World list, Bahrain’s results of the past few months have given the 52-year-old Soukup a lot of confidence as the Czech coach pushes ahead with the tiny Kingdom’s ambition of going all the way to the title on February 1. On Friday night, Bahrain were drawn in Group A alongside hosts the UAE, India and Thailand.

“I’ve heard some people say that our group is not very strong. But in my opinion, whoever has qualified for this tournament is here because they are good enough to be playing at this stage. So there are going to be easy or weak teams. They all have good quality, and all of them will be interesting and dangerous,” Soukup told Gulf News after the draws.

“At this stage, I am not thinking about playing any particular opponent. If a team wants to aspire for success, then they need to forget all about calculations about who is better and who is not. The team must be prepared to take on any other opponent, especially the best one from the continent. Honestly for Bahrain, it would not mean success if we merely manage to the knockout stages from Group A. With all the work we have done in the past few months, we need to think about going all the way into the final and even winning the Asian Cup,” he added.

Founded in 1951, Bahrain joined world governing body Fifa only in 1966. Since then, the national football team has gone through the normal pangs of highs and lows. After hitting their lowest-ever No. 139 in March 2000, Bahrain managed to climb up to their highest No. 44 by September 2004. However, they have slipped down the ladder ever since to hold on to their current position of No. 116.

“I am a coach and I want to win all our matches. My ambition for the Asian Cup is that I want to win it. If I tell you that I would be happy merely qualifying from the group stages then I would be lying. I want to win everything, and if I win all our games then we are capable of going all the way here,” the coach related.

“Two years ago, we started a new phase in Bahraini football where the old players were replaced with new faces. At the moment we are on the right path, and now we have to continue on this road. We have the next few months for our final leg of preparations and we are prepared to put in the hard work to achieve our goals,” he added.