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Thu 10 Sep 2009 07:16 AM

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Last minute goal edges Bahrain closer to World Cup

Bahrain edged Saudi out of the way on away goals rule following gripping 2-2 draw.

Last minute goal edges Bahrain closer to World Cup
Saudi Arabias Osama Hawsawi (right) fights for the ball against Bahrains Ismail Abdul Latif. (Getty Images)

Bahrain stayed on course for a maiden World Cup berth after edging out neighbours Saudi Arabia on the away-goals rule following a 2-2 draw in a heart-stopping second-leg of the Asian Zone World Cup qualifying play-off on Wednesday.

Two headed goals in injury time was a perfect climax to this eagerly awaited and extraordinary clash.

Nassir Al Shamrani put the hosts ahead in the 13th minute while Jaycee John equalised for the visitors in the 42nd.

Hamad Al Montashari put Saudi Arabia, who had reached the last four World Cup finals, ahead in the first minute of injury time while Bahrain's substitute Ismail Abdullatif headed in the all-important goal to seal the hosts' fate.

Bahrain, who let Saudi Arabia off the hook in the first-leg in Manama which ended 0-0 on Saturday, will now clash with Oceania champions New Zealand in another play-off for a place in the finals in South Africa.

"What is most important now is what is to come," said Abdullatif. "Thank God we were able to win. It was a very tough game.

Defender Sayed Mohammed Adnan said: "We are now very close to qualifying for the very first time. It's a big dream for us and we will fight for it."

Saudi Arabia dominated the proceedings on Wednesday right from the beginning and deservingly went ahead following a well-orchestrated move which foxed the entire Bahrain defence.

Mohammed Noor created the chance with a good pass from the left and Al Shamrani was in the right place at the right time to open the scoring.

The Saudis could have doubled the lead in the next few minutes with top striker Yasser Al Kahtani, Noor and Al Shamrani making repeated inroads into the Bahrain penalty area.

But the Bahrain defence absorbed the pressure and even kept pushing forward with their trademark long passes or swift counterattacks.

Bahrain's patience and perseverance finally paid off three minutes from half-time with Abdulla Omar initiating the move from the right.

The pacy midfielder sent in a measured centre which Hussain Ali missed narrowly.

But luckily Jaycee John timed his slide to perfection and sent the ball into the net for the all-important goal.

John came up with another courageous effort in the 79th minute but Saudi goalkeeper Waleed Abdulla pulled off another acrobatic save.

At the other end, it was Al Kahtani and Al Shamrani who battled it out for the Saudis.

The match took another dramatic turn in the first minute of injury time when Al Montashari leapt high amidst a melee to put Saudis ahead and seemingly on way to the playoff with New Zealand.

But Bahrain regrouped in double quick time and were back on even terms even before the celebrations in the Saudi stands had begun to ebb.

In what looked like a final move of the match, Salman Isa's corner kick was perfectly met by Abdullatif and this time his header succeeded in beating Saudi goalkeeper Abdulla.

Four years ago, Bahrain had reached the same stage and were 90 minutes away from sealing a berth in the 2006 World Cup held in Germany.

They drew 1-1 away to Trinidad and Tobago in the first-leg of a playoff only to lose in front of their home fans in the second-leg.

Czech coach Milan Macala's team will now be looking forward to bettering that result and realising a long-cherished dream of playing at the highest level for the first time in their history.

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