Dubai: Bahrain overcame favourites Saudi Arabia in the Gulf Cup final 1-0 in Doha on Sunday night to claim their first ever title in the tournament, sparking scenes of celebration in the island kingdom.
Fans partied in the streets of Manama after watching the game on television, many waving Bahraini flags as they filmed fellow supporters blaring the horns of their cars in celebration on the jammed roads.
On Monday, the Bahrain government announced a public holiday after the famous victory.
His Majesty King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa ordered all ministries and government departments to remain closed on Monday to allow Bahrainis to celebrate the landmark win.
Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, only decided to enter the tournament last month — expanding the number of teams from five to eight.
While the UAE exited in the group stages — a string of results that ultimately cost coach Bert Van Marwijk his job — the other two late entrants went all the way to the final showdown, accounting for hosts Qatar and regional heavyweights Iraq along the way.
With passionate fans representing both nations in Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium cheering on their players on Sunday night, it was a solitary goal from Bahrain’s Mohammad Al Romaihi in the 69th minute that proved the difference.
The underdogs withstood a barrage of attacks from the Saudis, and when they did get a sight of goal, Salem Al Dawsari was denied by the crossbar and Salman Al Faraj missed a penalty after Mahe Al Humaidan fouled Al Dawsari in the penalty area.
In the final minutes, Saudi Arabia threw everything at Bahrain in desperate hope of an equaliser, but an impressive backline stood firm and they held on for the win, having finished runners-up on four earlier occasions.
The Saudi players — who had defeated Bahrain 2-0 in the group stages — were left empty-handed as Bahrain ran to their fans to begin a long night of celebrations at home and abroad.
THE RISE OF A NATION
It has been a whirlwind year for Bahrain coach Helio Sousa, who only took charge of the team in March following the departure of Miroslav Soukup.
The former Portugal international led a reinvigorated side to a first West Asian Football Federation title in August, then oversaw a tremendous victory over Iran in 2022 World Cup qualifying in October.
Now he has more silverware having seen off the competition to claim the Gulf Cup.
Bahrain got off to a shaky start in the tournament, and were in danger of failing to make it out of Group B.
A 0-0 draw with Oman was followed by a 2-0 loss to Saudi Arabia. But a 4-2 victory over Kuwait saw them scrape into the knockouts on goal difference. A gritty penalty shoot-out win over Iraq followed in the semi-finals, setting the stage for their famous success over Saudi Arabi on Sunday night.
On this curve, Sousa and his men can dream of even bigger things.