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An eventful, bright year in football

  • Published at 08:46 pm December 29th, 2018
BFF
Bangladesh football team during training Dhaka Tribune/Md Manik

The most successful story was unquestionably the historic achievement in the Asian Games in Indonesia where the Olympic team, formed with U-23 players and three senior booters, qualified for the knockout stage for the first ever time

The Bangladesh football team transformed themselves from an out-of-contention position to a notably improved side through different vital competitions and training camps throughout the year, while the young booters proved their dominance in south Asia at the end of 2018.

The most successful story was unquestionably the historic achievement in the Asian Games in Indonesia where the Olympic team, formed with U-23 players and three senior booters, qualified for the knockout stage for the first ever time.

They eventually finished among the top 16 teams in the Asiad.

There was no national team activity in the previous year, and this year’s first training camp was arranged in February after Abahani Limited retained the premier league title, followed by Arambagh Krira Sangha’s season-ending Independence Cup glory.

It was at the end of March when Bangladesh finally played an international match after 17 months, but it had little effect on the players’ performance, who fought back from a two-goal deficit to leave the pitch against host Laos with a dramatic 2-2 draw.

Young English coach Jamie Day replaced Andrew Ord as national team head coach in the middle of the year before guiding his new side to two consecutive residential camps in Qatar and South Korea before flying straight to Indonesia.

Bangladesh met the top-ranked side in the group, Uzbekistan, in the opening Asiad encounter and presumably lost the game, but showed fighting spirit till the final whistle. 

Bangladesh stunned the other two group opponents, drawing against Thailand and beating Qatar, to make it to the last 16. 

The second-half performance during the defeat against a strong South Korea in the second round also earned praises in many quarters.

The Asiad performance gave Day a headache with regards to picking his Saff Championship squad, and the shocking defeat during a friendly in Nilphamari against Sri Lanka made the job harder less than a week before the crucial competition. 

It was a tragic end for the home side from the tournament’s opening round once again, despite two wins against Bhutan and Pakistan, as the defeat against Nepal in the last group stage match proved to be costly. 

But again, the performance and the fitness of the players showed marked improvements, which also reflected in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup held two weeks later.

The six-nation Bangabandhu Gold Cup reached a new standard this year in terms of participation and crowd attraction where the host started as the bottom-ranked side. 

There were full-house crowds when Bangladesh won 1-0 over Laos and conceded a similar margin defeat against a much-higher ranked Philippines during the group phase games in Sylhet.

Cox’s Bazar hosted men’s international football for the first time, and despite Bangladesh’s defeat against the 99th-ranked Palestine in the semi-final, the performance managed to enthrall the jam-packed crowds. 

Palestine eventually won the trophy beating Tajikistan in the final in Dhaka.

Moving on to the end of the year, the young booters proved their potential once again by winning the Saff U-15 Championship in Nepal, thrashing Maldives 9-0 in the first match before beating the host, holder India in the semi-final and finally, Pakistan in the final.   

The champion booters were rewarded with regular residential camp under five local coaches after the tournament before they flew off to Thailand for a Uefa-funded four-nation tournament. 

Facing Cyprus as their first European opponent in the competition, in spite of the 4-0 defeat, inspired the boys to shine in the next two matches where they drew 1-1 against host Thailand and thrashed Maldives 10-0.

The new domestic football seasons kicks off during the month of victory with more glamour and competitiveness in terms of the quality of the players, spending tendency of the new clubs, thus giving rise to more title contenders. 

Along with the increase of European coaches, this season also saw a record highest 51 foreign footballers from 20 countries featuring for 12 clubs.

Signing a World Cupper (2018 Russia World Cup) after more than two decades in Costa Rican forward Daniel Colindres and a group of key national players couldn’t trouble six-time professional league champion Abahani in the season-opening Federation Cup final, but hinted  growing competition in the top-flight title race after Bashundhara Kings claimed the Independence Cup in the last week of the year.