Bahrain continued their dream debut run in the 2022 Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Cup for Men yesterday as they upset Iran, Asia’s top-ranked team, 3-1, in a Group F main round game in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand.
Having entered the fourth set leading 2-1 after winning the first two sets, 25-16 and 25-19, and losing the third, 22-25, Bahrain – ranked 11th in Asia – sped into the lead at 10-6 and continued to increase it steadily to eventually find themselves just one point away from a dominant victory at 24-16. Soon, it was all over with the kingdom’s men taking the set, 25-18, and the game.
This was the latest impressive showing by the Bahrain team in their first ever appearance in the AVC Cup, which has been played every two years since the inaugural edition in 2008, after they announced themselves in grand style in their opening, preliminary round Pool D game last Sunday by beating the highly-rated Chinese Taipei team, 3-0.
Two days later, Bahrain went down battling to tournament favourites, China, after winning the first set before the Chinese mounted a strong comeback to take the next three sets and win the match by a 3-1 margin.
Bahrain’s win over Chinese Taipei, allied to the fact that China also defeated the Taipei team, meant that the kingdom’s side easily qualified for the main round – essentially the quarter-finals, with eight teams from the preliminary round roster of 11 slotted into two groups featuring four teams each.
Iran, who had defeated Pakistan, 3-1, in their only Pool B preliminary round game – there was no third team in their group, unlike in the other three pools – had come into yesterday’s game, brimming with confidence.
But they had not accounted for a Bahrain team clearly determined to make a strong statement in the tournament.
With outside hitter Mohamed Abdulla and opposite hitter Mohamed Anan launching outstanding spikes, Bahrain sped into a 14-7 lead quickly in the first set. Before long, they were just two points away from clinching the set at 23-16. An expert serve from Mahmood Ahmed, another outside hitter, soon saw Bahrain win the set 25-16 and go 1-0 up.
As Anan continued to set the pace for them in the second set, Bahrain soon had a sizeable lead at 16-10, which they extended to 20-13 in no time. The Iranians were under pressure and, although they made a valiant effort to claw their way back into the set, the Bahrainis were having none of it and took the set, 25-19, to go 2-0 up in the game and looking to close it off by winning the third set too.
Iran needed some inspiration from somewhere and the giant, 2.06m tall Amir Mohammad Golzadeh provided it, firing off a series of powerful shots to ensure Bahrain did not run away with the lead, the set or the game.
His efforts ensured that Iran managed to equalise every time Bahrain took the lead, levelling the score at 8-8, 16-16 and, finally, at 22-22. A few minutes later, after Iran had inched into a 24-22 lead, Golzadeh fired an unreturnable spike and Iran had won the set, 25-22, and, at 1-2, down in the game, had begun harbouring hopes of a come-from-behind victory.
But it was not to be, as Bahrain took the fourth set easily and their players gathered in a celebratory huddle, whooping and roaring with delight.
Meanwhile, China beat Pakistan, 3-0, in the other Group F game yesterday.
Bahrain will now play Pakistan today. If they win, they will seal a place in tomorrow’s semi-finals.
The match starts at 5am, Bahrain time.