PORT-OF-SPAIN: Bahrain took one step closer to booking a debut appearance at the World Cup finals after holding Trinidad and Tobago 1-1 in their playoff first-leg match at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain. The second-leg is scheduled for Wednesday at the National Stadium in Riffa.
Salman Isa headed Bahrain in front in the 72nd minute but a wonder goal from Christopher Birchall kept Trinidadian hopes alive.
Predictably, it was the hosts who started strongest when Aurtis Whitley had the first sight of goal after only seven minutes, but Bahrain goalkeeper Ali Hassan did well to turn his powerful long-range shot behind for a corner.
Hassan demonstrated his confidence and impeccable timing again just minutes later when he coolly snuffed out Carlos Edwards' snapshot from a tight angle.
The keeper's good work between the posts seemed to inspire the visitors and the 2004 Asian Cup semi-finalists began to show some flashes of inspiration in attack midway through the first-half.
They nearly took the lead when captain Mohammed Salmeen sent lone striker Hussain Ali in one-on-one with Trinidadian goalkeeper Kelvin Jack. But he somehow managed to pull his shot wide and the chance went begging.
Having settled into the contest, Bahrain began to dictate the pattern, although without talismanic striker Ala'a Hubail, they struggled to find holes in the Trinidad rearguard.
It looked like coach Luka Peruzovic's plan to keep Hubail on ice until after the break was going to pay dividends as the player made immediate inroads up front in the second-half.
Bahrain continued to press on as the second period progressed and their efforts eventually paid off 18 minutes from time when Isa rose highest to head home from a corner.
It took only five minutes for Trinidad to find an equaliser, however, when Birchall struck with a blistering long-range shot.
"We did not play up to our potential today. For this reason, I am fairly happy with the result," admitted Trinidad boss Leo Beenhakker.
Knowing his team are now in line to reach their first finals, Bahrain coach Peruzovic was predictably satisfied.
"I think we have a whole lot to be proud about. It was a very good game. My players worked very hard for this half (of the tie). But there's a second-half to play in Bahrain. We have to recover and prepare for this and we must keep concentrating," he said.
In Montevideo, Dario Rodriguez headed a first-half goal to give Uruguay a 1-0 win over Australia in their World Cup playoff first-leg.
In a tense and passionate match, Uruguay missed numerous chances to add to their score, with visiting goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer making a superb second-half stop from Richard Morales, and also had a penalty appeal turned down.
Australia were close to a precious away goal as Mark Viduka and Jason Culina came within a whisker of a second-half equaliser ahead of the second-leg in Sydney on Wednesday.