With the SAFF Championship set to get underway in the capital from Tuesday, the preparations for the Bangabandhu Gold Cup have also started and the draw for the fifth edition of the international football tournament was completed during a colourful ceremony at a city hotel yesterday.
The Bangabandhu Gold Cup, an irregular fixture in the game's local governing body's calendar, will be a 12-day event starting from October 1, just half-a-month after the completion of the seven-nation SAFF Championship. The last edition of the Gold Cup was held in 2016, when Nepal U-23 defeated Bahrain U-23 in the final.
Bangladesh were placed in the comparatively easier Group B alongside Philippines and Laos, although both opponents are ahead of the hosts in terms of FIFA Rankings. Group A will feature Palestine, Tajikistan and defending champions Nepal.
Palestine are the top-ranked side in the six-team tournament with 99th position in the FIFA Rankings followed by Philippines (115th). It is mentionable here that both Palestine and Philippines will be playing the 24-team final round of the Asia Cup next year.
Interestingly, hosts Bangladesh are the lowest ranked side in the tournament as they are 194th in the world, behind Tajikistan (120), Nepal (161) and Laos (178).
It has been decided that two venues -- one each in Sylhet and Dhaka -- will host the tournament with six group matches to be held at the Sylhet District Stadium and the rest at the Bangabandhu National Stadium. However, organisers are mulling the inclusion of a third venue -- either Rangpur or Nilphamari -- to host both semifinal matches.
Although it is unclear whether the participating teams will send their first teams to the tournament, the nations are stronger than those who took part in the previous two editions -- which featured teams like the U-23 squads from Malaysia, Bahrain, Singapore, Thailand, Maldives and Nepal alongside the first teams of Cambodia, Sri Lanka and a Malaysian club named Felda United.
"We have requested them to send their senior teams and also try to bring stronger squads to the tournament," said Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) president Kazi Salahuddin.
"All the participating teams are stronger this time because we have brought a team from each of the five zones of the Asian Football Confederation. There is nothing to be ashamed of [to lose against stronger opponents] because the Bangabandhu Gold Cup is a learning stage for Bangladesh," said the former national footballer, adding that the BFF were very proud to host the fifth edition of the Bangabandhu Gold Cup as such a tournament is not being held in other countries due to the busy schedules of national teams.