A year of wilderness for football

October 10, 2017

Bangladesh national football team will complete one year without international football — a rare drought for any team in this era of modern football with so many competitions around.
The dry spell came after their humiliating 3-1 defeat to Bhutan in the Asian Cup Qualifiers play-off match in Thimpu on October 10, 2016. The defeat ensured Bangladesh missed out on the Asian Cup qualifiers group stage after they were already eliminated from the World Cup qualifiers.
The decision of Bangladesh Football Federation to withdraw the entry from Asian Football Confederation Solidarity Cup in Malaysia also contributed to the drought.
‘I cannot remember when we had such a long period without an international match last time, at least not in 10 years,’ said former national footballer Saiful Bari. ‘May be in the 1980s when we had very limited opportunities and we went through a year without an international match.’
As a direct consequence of lack of international matches, Bangladesh slipped to 196 in FIFA rankings, their lowest position ever, which took them only ahead of Sri Lanka and Pakistan among South Asian countries.
‘It is a matter of great regret that we could not play any international match in the past one year,’ lamented midfielder Mamunul Islam, who led Bangladesh to Bhutan debacle.
‘It is a great loss for young players especially. You may win several age-level titles, we may win hundreds of matches for your club side but not playing a match for national team in one year is a huge loss,’ he said.
India, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives, the four others members of SAFF, played minimum three matches and enjoyed a better ranking than Bangladesh.
India for example played seven international matches in the past one year and moved to 107 in current FIFA rankings.
Nepal and Maldives played five matches each while Bhutan played three games since defeating Bangladesh.
Nepal, who failed to make it to the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers, restored international fortune by lifting the Solidarity Cup, a tournament that Bangladesh avoided, apparently to avoid more humiliation after the defeat against Bhutan.
The AFC penalised Bangladesh $20,000 for withdrawing their name from the tournament.
Striker Shakhwat Hossain Rony still could not console himself for their defeat in Bhutan.
‘Not only the loss in Thimpu, I cannot accept that we failed to beat them at home,’ he said, referring to the goalless draw in the first-leg tie in Dhaka.
Bangladesh showed Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet the door after the disappointing result and replaced him with Andrew Ord seven months later.
But Ord’s activities were limited to guiding the age-group teams, which nevertheless played several tournaments and also got some encouraging results.
Bangladesh Under-18 team defeated India, Maldives and Bhutan in recent SAFF championship and narrowly suffered a defeat against Nepal.
Bangladesh’s Jafar Iqbal struck five goals in the tournament to become the highest scorer, pointed out that football has got at least some future, if not any present.
‘Playing for national team is a dream for me because everyone counts the performance of national team,’ said Jafar.
The winger, who played so far only game for national team against the Maldives as a substitute, however, was unsure when his next opportunity would come.

-With New Age input

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