TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Double-Ten day is always special in Taiwan, but few would have expected this year’s celebrations to end on such a high note at the Taipei Municipal Stadium last night, as the Taiwan national football team took on a Bahrain side who beat then 5-0 as recently as September.
But that’s exactly what happened as the Taiwan team, playing as Chinese Taipei, staged a stunning late fightback to defeat Bahrain 2-1 and keep alive their chances of qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
It was a humid evening as the game kicked-off, but the bank holiday scheduling meant a larger than normal crowd of 7,908 were in attendance, and they made their presence felt in the early stages as a scrappy opening saw both sides create few meaningful chances.
Taiwan crowd. (Photo by David Spencer)
But in the 18th minute, that all changed. Bahraini forward Mahdi Abduljabbar, twisted and turned on the edge of the six-yard box and escaped his marker who then tripped him. Despite protests from the crowd it was a clear penalty. Captain Ismaeel Abdulatif Hasan stepped up to drive the penalty to the right keeper Pan Wen-chieh’s despairing dive, and put Bahrain 1-0 up.
That goal dampened the crowd’s spirits a bit and for the rest of the half, the Taiwan team huffed and puffed but struggled to create chances as Bahrain’s tall and physical side coped easily with a succession of long and hopeful balls forward.
They retained possession better and always looked capable of scoring a second, mainly through the dangerous forward runs of Ismaeel and Abdulla Yaser on the flanks. But Taiwan’s defence stood firm and went in at half-time only 1-0 behind.
It was a very different story in the second half. The Taiwan team came out with a lot more energy and they worked hard to get in goal-scoring positions. They won a succession of free kicks around the box but despite a few goal-mouth scrambles, the ball just wouldn’t fall their way. The crowd was also reenergised and every time the team pushed forward, everyone was roaring them on.
In the 67th minute, Taiwan had a big penalty appeal turned down. Chen Wei-Chuan appeared to be pulled down in the box as he tried to get on the end of a cross, but the Japanese referee thought differently and booked two Chinese Taipei players in the subsequent protests.
As the second-half wore on, Bahrain appeared more comfortable and appeared to have settled for a 1-0 win. The Taiwan team appeared tiring and out of ideas. But then the late drama began.
In the 89th minute, Chu En-lee put an inswinging cross into the Bahrain box. Chen Po-liang got away from his marker and stretching with his right foot, managed to get a toe on the ball and direct it past the static Bahraini keeper Sayed Mohsen.
The home crowd erupted, celebrating an equaliser that was well-deserved, but looked like it would never come. But there was more. Two minutes later, Chen Hao-wei escaped down the right and his cross was headed home by Che en-le from point-blank range.
Taiwan fans wait for the team after the game. (Photo by David Spencer)
Delirious scenes ensued as the players, coaching staff, and fans celebrated the most dramatic of turn-arounds. Bahrain tried to respond, with substitute Mohamed Al Banna seeing a powerful volley tipped acrobatically over by Chinese Taipei keeper Pan Wen-chieh. But it was too little too late and the Municipal Stadium crowd stayed long after the final whistle to salute their heroes.
Bahraini coach Miroslav Soukup was magnanimous in defeat. “We expected a different game from the home fixture. Their team was more active and we couldn’t play our passing game so well. They had some luck and took their chances at the end, so congratulations and we wish them well in their next game.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s new coach, English Gary White was jubilant. “The players were absolute warriors tonight. The supports were fantastic. The Chinese Taipei Football Association was amazing. What a fantastic was to celebrate national day.”
Taiwan manager Gary White. (Photo by David Spencer)
“Bahrain are a very strong team, he went on. “They were one game away from the World Cup a few years ago, so it’s great to beat a team of that calibre. Our defending was immense in the first half and at the break we told the players keep going, opportunities will come, and you have to take them.”
“This game sets football up brilliantly here because there is so much potential, yet so many people speak negatively. But my advice is to be positive and let’s see what can happen. We have a three-year plan to get into the FIFA Top 100, the players are very receptive to what we are trying to do, so let’s see what we can achieve.
This result means Taiwan now sit 3rd in their qualifying group with six points, just one behind Bahrain and Turkmenistan who occupy the two qualifying positions. The team’s next game is away to Turkmenistan in November. Taiwan lost that home game 3-1 back in March, but with a new energy about the team and a training camp in Qatar before that game, few would rule out the possibility victory to help propel Taiwan to an unlikely place at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.