Bangladesh, yet to win a game, are facing India in the next match of the combined FIFA World Cup and AFC Asia Cup qualifiers tonight. Bangladesh has dropped out of the 2022 World Cup qualifying race, and sits at the bottom of the table bagging only two draws in their six matches. Despite the dreary outlook, Bangladesh still have a lot to look forward to in their final two matches.
Oman and Qatar will be locking horns for the top two spots while Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan will fight it out for the third place, mathematically still an attainable goal for all three teams.
So, how does the equation look for Bangladesh?
In this combined qualifier campaign, top two teams will head into the next stage of the World Cup qualifiers and the third team along with them will ensure direct entry to the Asia Cup. The top four fourth ranked teams will also have a direct shot at playing the Asia Cup that is to be held in China in 2023.
Bangladesh currently have two points while India and Afghanistan have three and five points respectively. Bangladesh will next play against India tonight, and second-placed Oman after that. Afghanistan's next match is also against Oman, after which they face India.
If Bangladesh manage to bag two consecutive wins they'll have a solid chance of finishing third as Afghanistan don't have the odds in their favour against Oman. Bangladesh will be out of contention for third place if they lose any of these matches but they'd still have a shot if they manage to secure a win and a draw from the final two matches. In that case they'd have to count on India to draw against Afghanistan. In this scenario, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will finish with six points while India will drop out of the race with four points, bringing goal difference (GD) into play. Bangladesh and Afghanistan currently have a GD of -11 and -9 respectively.
Despite a long history of failure behind them, Bangladesh can be hopeful on account of more recent events. India has failed to defeat Bangladesh since 2015. In the first leg of this battle of nerves, Bangladesh were en route to victory in their home ground until the party was spoiled by an 88th minute equaliser by Adil Khan.
A rejuvenated side by Topu Barman's scintillating finish to come back from behind to clinch a draw against Afghanistan on June 3, will look to seal the third place and to do so they'll have to eye a win against India. Bangladesh showed a lot of heart in India and they'll be hoping to up the ante on their second meeting.
Bangladesh, under Jamie Day, have yet to improve on several grounds but they have shown resilience that had been missing from this side for many years. Their defence looked impregnable at times against Afghanistan. Finland-born right-back Tariq Kazi put on a defending masterclass on his debut, and with belligerent centre-back Topu Barman, Bangladesh seem to have conjured up a solid defensive line-up.
So, Bangladeshi fans can get behind their boys as they are finally, hopefully, starting to look like a side that could bring down the toughest of opponents on their day.
Alavi Ashraf Eram likes to blabber about his favourite movies, songs and sports. Drop him your movie critiques at www.facebook.com/alaviashraf.eram