Bahrain

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The country

Located in the Persian Gulf between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the tiny island Kingdom of Bahrain is the smallest nation in the Arab world and, relatively speaking, probably also the most liberal. Alcohol is freely available, women are permitted to vote (for whomever their husbands tell them to vote for), homosexuality is legal (though not encouraged) and the death penalty is reserved only for the most deplorable of acts such as treason, premeditated murder or failing to replace a used toilet roll.* Unsurprisingly, the economy is based around the region’s copious oil resources. In fact Bahrain was the first Gulf nation to strike black gold way back in 1931 and there are now fears that, after 86 years of extraction, the country’s wells will soon run dry. However the government steadfastly denies that supplies are rapidly dwindling and recently called to session an emergency council to discuss the issue, a meeting which unfortunately had to be curtailed after most of the delegates ran out of petrol en-route.

*Not strictly true but quite frankly this should be a capital offence everywhere.

Luckily, plans are afoot to diversify the economy, most notably through tourism. Bahraini waters offer some of the finest snorkelling-cruise packages in the Gulf, allowing visitors to swim amongst shoals of beautiful fish and then, once back on deck, to order one of the plucky buggers char-grilled with a nice green salad. Elsewhere, one of the country’s top attractions is the tree of life which grows in the middle of a desert area devoid of water and other vegetation yet somehow thrives in the arid climate. Gullible Christians have become particularly susceptible to this so-called “miracle tree” after some open-minded – i.e. demented – scholars championed the idea of it being the original Garden of Eden on the basis that it looks a bit like its biblical depiction, that is if you look at it from a certain angle, squint heavily, completely ignore all reason, logic and common sense, and lie.

Visitors also flock to Bahrain for the annual Formula One Grand Prix, a sport enthusiastically embraced by thousands of locals every year, although if they’re in any way normal they only watch the first few bends for any decent pile-ups before turning their attention to something more compelling such as live chess, live croquet or the national paint-drying championships, featuring analysis from Michael Owen.

Speaking of football (nailed that transition), Bahrain’s national team found unprecedented success during the first decade of the 21st century, reaching the semi-finals of the 2004 Asian Cup in China and twice finding themselves on the brink of the World Cup finals only to stumble at the very last on both occasions. First, in 2005, following a rather fortuitous Asian play-off victory over Uzbekistan*, the Bahrainis progressed to a do or die encounter against Trinidad & Tobago and took the initiative with a 1-1 draw in the away leg, only to then lose 1-0 at home and bow out 2-1 on aggregate.

Four years later New Zealand’s ‘All Whites’ provided the final obstacle on the road to South Africa 2010 and yet again Bahrain blew their chance of a maiden voyage to the finals, drawing 0-0 at home before losing the away match 1-0 in Wellington. It was nearly oh so different though.                          In the 51st minute of that return leg, Bahrain were awarded a penalty which Sayed Adnan buried into the waiting arms of Kiwi goalkeeper Mark Paston instead of the net and the chance of a (probably decisive) away goal was gone.

*Uzbekistan originally won the home leg 1-0 but also had a second goal from the penalty spot chalked off by the Japanese referee for encroachment. Inexplicably, instead of ordering a retake the official awarded Bahrain a free-kick and, after the Uzbeks lodged a formal complaint, FIFA decided to replay the match on the basis of a “technical error.” Perhaps inevitably, Bahrain seized their second chance, drawing the replayed first leg 1-1 and the return 0-0 to progress on away goals.

The shirt

It’s hard to recall an especially riveting Bahrain shirt, not least since Puma took over production duties and begun chucking out what are usually little more than red templates with the appropriate badge sewn on. Given that the national flag in this instance best resembles some kind of bloodied, spiky booby trap ripped straight from an Indiana Jones movie, you’d think they’d try to incorporate this into the design somewhere. And they have, sort of, but not really.

The flag DOES appear on the shirt but only UNDER the collar which is utterly ridiculous as it’s completely hidden at all times, so what’s the point? Incompetent designers aside, this plain but aesthetically pleasing garment from 2010 does include some nice sandy gold trim and, had the afore-mentioned Mr Adnan not produced such a lame-arse penalty against New Zealand, it would be an historic piece of fabric as the first worn by a Bahraini World Cup squad. Oh well, ifs and buts.

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