BAHRAIN stayed undefeated in the Women's Football Cup Arabia 2010 following a dramatic 2-0 victory over Palestine last night at the Al Ahli Club stadium in Mahooz.
Winger Reem Al Hashimi and goalkeeper Huda Ali Salman provided the early heroics for the home squad, who were boosted by an impressively large turnout of Bahraini fans.
Star midfielder Shaikha Al Anood Al Khalifa then applied the dagger that sealed the victory late on.
With the result, the Bahrainis finished at the top of group 'A' with a maximum nine points from their three matches in the preliminary round. Palestine finished as runners-up with six points after crashing to their first defeat.
Both teams are set to play in Monday's semi-finals, with Bahrain taking on the runners-up of group 'B' and Palestine playing the top-ranked squad.
"I am very happy with how our players approached this game, we are now first in our group and we can look forward to the semi-finals," Bahrain head coach Khaled Al Harban told the post-match Press conference.
Reem opened the scoring for Bahrain with a headed goal in the 35th minute. The nationals had created several chances before that, but could not supply the finishing touches to go ahead.
Huda then pulled off a game-changing stop at the stroke of half-time after the Palestinians were handed a penalty for a handball in the box.
Palestine's Caroline GA stepped up to take the spot kick, but her low shot to the bottom-left corner of goal was brilliantly parlayed by a lunging Huda, who tapped the ball just enough to send it rolling past the left upright and out.
That was a crucial missed opportunity for Palestine as it was their only real shot at goal the entire game.
With a slim 1-0 lead at the break, the Bahrainis pressed for another right form the start of the second half, and in the 65th minute, were rewarded with some Shaikha Al Anood magic.
After receiving a pass from teammate Marwa Mohammed, Shaikha Al Anood dribbled into the box, masterfully rounded Palestinian goalkeeper Nadin Al Kolyb, and then scored from an acute angle with several defenders trying to prevent her goal on the line.
"In all our matches so far, we have played at one level," added coach Al Harban. "We have been very consistent and I am very happy for this.
"Surely, the semi-final will be more difficult. Both Egypt or Jordan are strong, but we will work more in these next two days to prepare and hopefully be in the final."
Meanwhile, Syria eased past Qatar 12-0 in a non-bearing match that was part of yesterday's programme.
Having already been eliminated from further title contention, both teams were playing for pride, and it was the more experienced Syrians who ended their tournament campaign on a high.
Manar Fayez Al Mhanaa spearheaded the winners in their lone victory of the cup. She scored five goals, including a first-half hat-trick that helped lift her squad to a comfortable 5-0 lead at half-time.
In Bahrain's match, the home side had many opportunities to break the deadlock early on as they dominated possession from the kick-off.
Their first real opportunity came in the 18th minute, when Shaikha Al Anood outsmarted the Palestinian defence and found some space on the right. She then picked out an unmarked Reem in front of goal, but Reem shot straight at Palestine goalie Nadin.
Minutes later, Reem had another chance from the left but she shot straight into the side-netting. That mattered little, however, as it was third time lucky for Reem when she finally broke the goalless deadlock after the half-hour mark with her header from close range.
Shaikha Al Anood was the provider, getting her assist from the right wing. Shaikha Al Anood therefore had her stamp on both of Bahrain's goals last night.
Bahrain were denied a goal right before the half-time whistle, when striker Muna Al Daaysi scored but was adjudged to have been off-side.
Gulf Daily News : By PATRICK SALOMON