A dispirited Bangladesh football team are determined to get away with a win on aggregate when they take on Bhutan in the crucial second leg of the Asian Cup Qualifiers Play-off at Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu on Monday. The game kicks off at 6pm (Bangladesh standard time).
The Bangladesh side woke up on Sunday morning with a bad news as midfielder Emon Mahmud Babu's 57-year old mother Razia Khanom passed away owing to a heart attack at her residence in Dhaka. The Bengal Tigers' Belgian head coach Tom Saintfiet now has to field his XI without the presence of the Abahani midfielder who has been a key part of the tactician's plans.
After being held to a frustrating goalless draw in the first leg at home early last month, the equation for the men in red and green to make it into the Qualifiers has become slightly tougher. Although a draw would be enough for the visitors to progress, it must be a scoring one. Another stalemate by the end of stipulated time would take the game to extra-time.
Bangladesh have never lost to Bhutan in history, winning four out of six matches. With that said, the current situation is a bit different as the home side have improved a lot in recent years while Bangladesh are under pressure for their poor displays lately.
After hearing the loss of Emon's mother, the players however, had a long walk of 40 minutes in the hilly area in the morning in order to adapt with Thimphu's altitude and cold temperature. Emon is scheduled to return home on Monday afternoon.
“The whole team is shocked,” said Saintfiet in the pre-match press conference.
He continued, “It’s a catastrophe. Emon was playing very good for Dhaka Abahani. He is a skilful, technical and intelligent midfield player who also has a lot of spirit and fighting mentality. After our first match against Bhutan, I was looking for solutions, and Emon was in my plan from day one.”
Bangladesh created more than a dozen chances in the first leg on September 5 but a lack of finishing touch upfront left them empty-handed. Saintfiet called up veteran striker Jahid Hasan Ameli for Monday's tie but the experienced forward might only feature as a substitute while Hemanta Vincent Biswas and Shakhawat Hossain Rony are likely to play upfront.
“If we had scored a goal in the first match and won that, we would have been a little more relaxed. But with 0-0, we can still play for a draw and Bhutan need to win. So we have small advantage with 0-0, but Bhutan will be playing at home, with a 10-15,000 crowd,” added the 43-year-old coach.
With the absence of Emon in midfield, it is more likely that former captain Mamunul Islam could be in the starting XI. Saintfiet informed that if the midfielder starts, he will wear the captain's armband. If he doesn't then goalkeeper Ashraful Islam Rana will continue captaining the side.
Bhutan have a new head coach in place following the first leg with Torsten Spittler replacing Pema Dorji. The new coach believes it will be a 50-50 game for both sides.
Bangladesh 185, Bhutan 189
Bangladesh goals for and against:
14 and 2
Bhutan goals for and against:
2 and 14