Tuesday 19 October 2021, 07:00

Bahraini women’s team seek to follow in men’s footsteps

  • Bahrain taking part in AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifiers for the third time

  • Khaled Al Harban hoping to lead the team to first finals

  • Al Ahmar take on Laos and Chinese Taipei in coming days

Bahrain’s men’s national team have enjoyed considerable successes since the start of the new millennium. After coming fourth in their maiden AFC Asian Cup appearance in 2004, Al Ahmar have never failed to reach the finals. They went on to win both the Arabian Gulf Cup and West Asian Championship in 2019 before qualifying for the FIFA Arab Cup 2021™ scheduled for this November/December.

The women’s game, on the other hand, is still a relatively new phenomenon in the Kingdom, where the national team was only formed in 2003. They are now taking part in the AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifiers for the third time after failing to make the final tournament in the two previous editions in 2014 and 2018. However, coach Khaled Al Harban has ambitious plans for the team, who are aspiring to make a maiden appearance at next year’s continental finals, which serve as the region’s qualifying event for the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™. In an interview with FIFA.com, Al Harban put it thus: "The ambition is there and the desire to qualify is there too, even if we’re lacking information on our opponents in the qualifiers. In addition, the team is going through a transitional phase and undergoing a major reshuffle.” "The impressive results achieved by the men's team will motivate us to perform better and find success. We’re also going to work hard to improve and compete for titles,” he added.

Historic opportunity

The team have two games this week which could see them through to their first continental finals. First they play Laos on 21 October and then Chinese Taipei on 24 October in Group A of the qualifiers for the Women's Asian Cup be held in India next year.

Asked about Al Ahmar’s chances, Al Harban, who coached the side during the qualifying phase of the previous Asian Cup, said: "I think we can beat both our opponents, and a win in the first game against Laos would greatly improve our qualification chances."

Bahrain, ranked 85th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, prepared for qualifying with a training camp in Turkey, where they played against several local clubs before going down 5-0 to India, the hosts of next year’s finals. The 54-year-old coach believes his team benefited from the training camp and the friendly, despite the defeat. It was an opportunity to "improve the players’ fitness and identity some weaknesses before the qualifiers”, he explained. "The training camp provided us with an opportunity to do intensive training and play tough games. This helped us improve physical, technical and tactical aspects, especially as we hadn’t played for a long time due to the pandemic, which has had a huge impact on the players’ skill levels and physical performance,” he added.

Marked development

Al Harban has vast experience in Bahraini football, having coached several men's clubs in the Bahraini Premier League before being given the reins of the women’s team by the Bahraini Football Association. Having coached both men and women, he is well qualified to talk about the differences between these in Bahrain.

"There are many differences between men's and women's football here. Men start playing at a younger age, and they also have established competitions, including the league and the cup where they can play many games. Women, on the other hand, lack continuity in their programmes," he said. "We struggled a lot in the past to develop the women’s game, particularly because of the customs and traditions that left many parents with reservations about letting their daughters become involved in the game,” he added.

“Today, the situation has improved thanks to the support we’ve gotten from FIFA and the AFC. The Bahraini Football Association also supports the team in its quest to take part in international and regional competitions. This is on top of the help we receive from the government,” he told us. Al Harban insisted that the women’s game has developed in recent years, citing national team captain Yasmine Fayez’s moving to play in Jordan. “We must professionalize women’s football. Yasmine Fayez is currently playing in the Jordanian League, and she will motivate others to improve themselves and work harder,” he said. If the development of women's football in Bahrain continues at this pace, there is every chance that the country’s women can follow in the footsteps of the men’s side and enjoy success of their own in the future.