In an epic battle in which the opposing sides pitted not just their soccer skills but also their piety, humility, reverence, atonement and self-purification against each other, Bahrain eliminated Saudi Arabia in a World Cup qualification match with a 2-2 draw in Riyadh.
The match started at well past 10pm local time due to Ramadan--the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar during which many Muslims fast and pray by day and feast and (according to some interpretations) play soccer by night.
Bahrain's substitute midfielder Ismail Abdullatif proved to be the holiest, most reverent player on the pitch, as his diving header just seconds from the final whistle shocked the host Saudis and sent them crashing out of the two-legged elimination match on the away goals rule.
The two sides drew 0-0 in the first leg at Bahrain's National Stadium in Manama last week, a game in which the Saudis' stellar goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah showed off his piety and atonement by making save after gilded save.
The victory for Bahrain now means the tiny island nation is just one small step away from its first ever World Cup finals berth--a home-and-away playoff versus New Zealand in November for the right to book a ticket to South Africa. Meanwhile, after qualifying for 5 straight World Cup finals, the Saudis are out.
In related news, this year marked the very first time ever that the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars--the country's arbiters of all things religious and one of the most important authorities in the Sunni Muslim world--permitted the use of telescopes to determine the start of Ramadan (sighting the crescent after a new moon).
On the other hand, Bahrain--a mostly Muslim country two-thirds of whom are Shi'ite--not only still relies on the naked eye to determine the start of Ramadan, it often relies on two or three naked eyes which don't always see the same thing. Very often, the country's Shia and Sunni communities do not begin the holy month at the same time!
However, this year proved to be a rare harmony of naked-eye moon sightings, as Bahrain's two Muslim communites actually agreed on the start date for Ramadan. Clearly Bahrain's subsequent triumph on the soccer field shows us just what Allah thinks of telescopes.
And speaking of atonement, no one is gearing up for Yom Kippur quite like the Israeli national soccer team. After a humiliating 1-0 home loss to Latvia last week that saw them all but eliminate themselves from qualification, the Team of David atoned with a 7-0 thumping of lowly Luxembourg at Ramat Gan stadium, after which they remain infinitesimally mathematically alive to qualify with two games remaining.