As soon as referee Jalal Uddin blew the final whistle, hundreds of schoolboys, allowed free entry to the Army Stadium, ran onto the pitch and hailed the victorious Bangladesh U-23 national team for their 1-0 win over their Nepalese counterparts. Head coach Lodewijk de Kruif and his deputy Rene Koster raised their hands and acknowledged the applause and cheer like rock stars acknowledging fans' adoration.
A win against Nepal may not be big news for sports enthusiasts in general, but for the Bangladesh players and coaching staff, for whom international exposure is a rare occasion and success even rarer, it was a moment to relish.
De Kruif, who returned on the morning of the match after spending eight days with his cancer-stricken father back in Netherlands, was ecstatic.
“This win will give us confidence to organise more international matches in the country. Everybody tells me football is not popular in Dhaka. You go outside to Chittagong and Sylhet to see the popularity of football. But today (Tuesday) you saw how popular football is here as you could see everybody very happy,” said the delighted Dutchman.
Sohel Rana, whose first international goal made the difference between the two sides yesterday, was the toast of his teammates. The 20-yard-old midfielder was letting the winning feeling sink in.
“Generally we do not see such spectators in our football matches. They have come in numbers here today to see us victorious and we did not disappoint them,” said Sohel.
Ahead of the match, questions were raised over the ability of the Bangladesh defence to absorb pressure. De Kruif was satisfied with his backline which comprised Atiqur Rahman Meshu, Yeasin Khan, Raihan Hasan and Tapu Barman.
“The defence organisation was good today (Tuesday). One big chance they gave away and there was another half chance. There was also a little lack of concentration in the last 10 to 15 minutes and that is the area we have to improve,” said the 43-year old coach.
Nepal coach Jack Stefanowski was looking forward to improvement from his side in the second match in Sylhet on Friday.
“We wanted to play a passing game, but the pitch didn't allow it. So we tried to adjust in a different way which we couldn't do well in the first half. We did a little bit better in the second half and created some chances but didn't get the goal,” said the Nepal coach.