Abir AhmedComment

ONE PLACE GAINED, ONE RUN BY MESSI: TWELVE MONTHS OF FOOTBALL IN BANGLADESH

Abir AhmedComment

Abir Ahmed considers a year for his home nation.

The year 2011 has been quite an eventful one for the overpopulated and exceedingly football passionate but lowly ranked country of Bangladesh. They began the year ranked as 158th in the official FIFA ranking and ended it one place above. The standings, however, do not acquaint with the whole story. There were moments to treasure, and a few forgettable ones as the year went by seemingly faster than usual.

2012 AFC Challenge Qualifying Group Stage:

The qualification phase saw eight teams, the top two from each group, advance to the final tournament in Nepal. Bangladesh was drawn in Group A, along with Palestine, Philippines and Myanmar. All of their matches were held at Yangon in Myanmar. Bangladesh’s three group stage matches took place in March in the space of five days. The first one saw them face Palestine and two second-half goals from the Palestines sank them to a defeat. However, their spirits and the desire to immediately fight back were lauded after the next match where they comfortably beat Myanmar 2-0. An early goal and another very late at the game wrapped up the match in favor of the Bangladeshis. The last match was virtually a ‘loser gets eliminated’ tie against Philippines. With a great deal of pressure on both sides, Bangladesh failed to play to their potential and crashed to a 3-0 loss, and hence got eliminated from the competition.

Only one win and two defeats failed to live up to expectations. The then Bangladesh coach Robert Rubcic said after the last match: "It is very normal for a team with only two days of training for such matches while Philippines trained for 3 months long together. That’s how an upcoming nation comes up. If we had got at least two weeks training time then the result could be something else.”

2014 FIFA World Cup qualification:

Robert Rubcic left at the start of the June over a pay dispute and was succeeded by the Macedonian Gjorgji Jovanovski . Fears of security, however, prompted Jovanovski not to travel to Pakistan for the second leg and he was subsequently replaced by another Macedonian - Nikola Ilievski, just days before the match. In the preliminary round of qualifiers, Bangladesh met Pakistan in a two-legged tie. The first leg at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka was Bangladesh’s best result of the year. On a rain-soaked evening, they cruised to a 3-0 victory and put half of their feet in the next round. The return leg in Lahore was a stalemate, which meant Bangladesh advanced to the second round of the FIFA World Cup qualification for the first time in their history.

Next up was Lebanon, who appeared to be a beatable side on paper. After two encouraging performances in the previous round, it went all wrong for Bangladesh in the first leg at Beirut where they were thumped 4-0. They needed a miracle to progress to the next phase in the second leg in Dhaka a few days later. A 2-0 win at the Bangabandhu National Stadium proved to be only a consolation as the dreams of reaching Brazil in 2014 crumbled to dust.

2011 SAFF Championship:

It was time for the SAFF Championship in early December. Going into this regional tournament held in New Delhi, Bangladesh were the highest ranked team among the eight participants and expectations were unusually elevated. The 2003 winners were pitted with Pakistan, Maldives and Nepal in Group B. A boring stalemate was the result of their first match against familiar foes Pakistan. The second match against Nepal was heading for another 0-0 draw but a 95th minute free-kick winner from Nepal helped them to gain all three points. There was still hope of qualifying for the semis when Bangladesh came out to face Maldives in the last match. However, a tepid performance saw them lose 3-1 and crash out of the tournament.

After the unlikely failure, Nikola Illievski resigned as coach of the national team on the 21st of December and the new coach of the side has yet to be announced.

The table below shows the positions of the Bangladesh team in the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking over the last twelve months.

Ranking updated on (2011)

Position

12 January

158th

2 February

157th

9 March

174th

13 April

166th

18 May

163rd

29 June

163rd

27 July

147th

24 August

139th

21 September

138th

19 October

141st

23 November

142nd

21 December

157th

 

It has been a year of ups and downs for our country. The visits of the Argentina and Nigeria national teams will live long in the memories of our football fans. Argentina has arguably the largest fan base in Bangladesh and it was a dream come true for their fans to watch their favorite team and heroes play in front of their own eyes. Lionel Messi’s wonder run against Nigeria in Dhaka will surely be replayed numerous times in future. Although there were debates among the football fans as to how the visits would help to develop football in the country and about the ticket prices, there were no disagreements regarding the entertainment the match provided. Let us hope the year ahead brings us an abundance of wonderful football moments to cherish.

You can follow Abir on Twitter @abir_mufc

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