Abdulla Yusuf, benched initially, pivotal in Bahrain’s AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 Group E win over Jordan, securing knockout round advancement with a crucial goal.
Dominating the mixed zone at the Khalifa International Stadium, Abdulla Yusuf confidently and comfortably strolls past the awaiting media, well-aware that he has secured his nation’s spot in the next phase of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023.
Less than an hour has passed since the final whistle sounded in a game where the 30-year-old sprinted behind the Jordan defense to convert Mohamed Marhoon’s through ball with a textbook finish into the bottom corner, securing the win that Bahrain needed to progress.
Capping a dominant and commanding performance, the goal showcased the skills of his nation’s sole Europe-based player. Yusuf utilized the lessons acquired during more than four seasons in the Czech Republic to give his team the crucial cutting edge.
Midway through a one-year contract with Mlada Boleslav, the striker initially ventured into Eastern Europe in 2018 by joining Prague-based Bohemians from Muharraq, where he had started his career at East Riffa.
At the conclusion of his first season, he embarked on another journey, this time to Slavia Prague, making history as the first player from West Asia to participate in the UEFA Champions League when he faced off against the Italian giants Internazionale.
A stint at Slovan Liberec provided him with the opportunity to compete in the UEFA Europa League the following year before making a move to Mlada Boleslav in the summer of 2023, following a one-season stint in Indonesia with Persija Jakarta.
Yusuf believes his team-mates should leave for Europe to optimize their skills
With quickness and physical dominance, the 1.94-meter forward possesses the ability and presence to overpower opposing defenders. His time in Europe has been a valuable learning experience, teaching him to optimize his skills for the benefit of both himself and his national team.
In an effort to influence his teammates, he has actively encouraged them to make the move to Europe. Unfortunately, thus far, those efforts have not been heeded.
“It’s difficult, I’ve tried for four years but it’s difficult because of the mentality,” he says. “They like to be more comfortable, between family and home.
“(Bahrain) is an easier league but I’ve tried to change the mentality, to motivate them, to show them how it’s different and that you have to sacrifice to reach whatever it is you want.
“Football life is short and if you don’t catch it you will regret. This is what I’m trying to do now and I hope they will want to follow me.”
Yusuf’s instrumental role in guiding his team to the last 16 of Qatar 2023 has once again stirred memories of Bahrain’s past tournament successes, particularly recalling the squad that reached the semi-finals in China PR in 2004.
Led by striker A’ala Hubail (pictured below), that team stands as Bahrain’s most successful, achieving not only a top-four finish at the AFC Asian Cup but also coming close to securing the country’s first-ever FIFA World Cup qualification.
In the qualifiers for both 2006 and 2010, the Bahrainis advanced to the intercontinental playoffs, experiencing defeat in 2005 against Trinidad and Tobago and then narrowly falling short four years later against New Zealand.