Veteran Czech Milan Macala stands on the verge of leading Bahrain to their first ever World Cup finals
Tell me about getting to this point, the play offs and that match against Saudi Arabia… Well, we played a good game. When we looked at the teams we saw who we could have got, Iran, North Korea or Saudi Arabia. Saudi was the best option because the match was in Ramadan. It was only one hour’s travel whilst North Korea was a long long journey through China. Saudi Arabia are neighbours and we know everything about each other. It was interesting. 0-0 here was good for us. At 1-1, 90 minutes, the game was over. I nearly had a heart attack…
Then the Saudis scored, you must have thought you were out… It was 30 seconds in to injury time. But then we scored again. What can I say? It was luck! How good is this Bahraini team? We know the league here is not as strong as other countries, but we have three players in Europe and more playing in Qatar, in the Emirates, Kuwait. If you mix together good players with a good atmosphere in the squad you will get good results.
If Bahrain qualify, they will be the smallest nation to ever make it to the finals. How have Bahrain got so far when other more experienced nations have failed? I don’t know how to explain it. You compare the leagues in Bahrain to Kuwait and Qatar, they have much more money and better quality pitches. But spirit and desire are much more important. We have had many, many positive moments to help us dream the dream.
Do you think there is more raw talent here than in the rest of Gulf? They have talent and they have speed and flexibility. They are playing football every day, everywhere. But now it’s important we have academies, and clubs from England are now coming here.
The life of a coach can be short in the Middle East, but you have been in the region for a long time now. How have you survived for so long? I think if you come here you must respect many things. It is not possible to come and say that everything is wrong. You must bring something to these countries to improve the players but you must also be patient and cooperate. And good results help!
What would qualification mean for Bahrainis? It is very important to them because this is a great moment for the country, because of football. Everybody on the street is talking about the Bahrain national team. The team is a representative of the country as a whole.
Will the memory of 2005 (when Trinidad and Tobago knocked Bahrain out at the same stage before the 2006 World Cup) help against New Zealand? Can you beat them? This is not an easy game but this is the moment for our players. But we also need luck because New Zealand has players in England, in Australia, in America.
The second leg would be your twentieth game during qualification. You will certainly deserve your place at the finals if you make it… We have beaten top teams. If we get there, everybody will be happy. Everything is in our hands.
New Zealand play Bahrain in Wellington on November 14.