SAFF C'ship: Hosts eye resurgence

When the SAFF Championship kicks off at the Bangabandhu National Stadium (BNS) today, the onus will be on the home footballers to draw the fans to the country's premier venue, once regarded as the theatre of dreams for Bangladesh football.

A poor run of form over a decade that saw Bangladesh football lurch from bad to worse has had a deep- reaching impact, which not only pushed it to a distant second to the now very popular cricket, but also marked the gradual shift of fans from the BNS to the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium, the home of Bangladesh cricket.

Although no one is expecting a full house at the BNS during the course of the seven-nation tournament, the Bangladesh booters can be the force behind that wind of change, provided that they come up with a strong performance that their predecessors demonstrated when the tournament was played at this very ground in 2003.

There are soaring expectations of a turnaround after a brilliant showing at the Asian Games, which was greatly doused when a more experienced Bangladesh side suffered a 1-0 defeat against Sri Lanka in a FIFA friendly last week, and that too in front of a full house in Nilphamari.

However, a win against Bhutan in Bangladesh's opening game, which kicks off at 7:00pm, could be termed as a catalyst to that wind of change. Although holders India will be the team to beat in what is dubbed as South Asia's World Cup, the Championship is more than about just winning for Bangladesh. A credible performance will not only lift the profile of Bangladesh football, it will more importantly serve as a serious attempt to bring back its soul -- the fans -- to the erstwhile theatre of Bangladesh's football dreams.


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