Battered booters brace for Maldives challenge

An Afghanistan booter is chased by three Bangladesh players during their SAFF Suzuki Cup match at the Greenfield Stadium in Trivandrum Wednesday. Photo: STAR

Trivandrum is in a festive mood. The capital of Kerala, a major tourist attraction with the famous Kovalam beach a few kilometres from the city centre, is also known for its communal harmony and iconic religious landmarks. The city has a notable Catholic Christian community, who are celebrating Christmas with great fervour.

However, the first floor of the Taj Vivanta Hotel, where the Bangladesh football team are staying, was eerily silent the day after the team’s 4-0 defeat against defending champions Afghanistan in their first match of the SAFF Suzuki Cup. It was the biggest defeat in their SAFF history, and a sucker punch ahead of another tough encounter against Maldives, which has turned into a do-or-die affair now, on Saturday.

Bangladesh coach Maruful Haque tried to install some confidence into the morally-shattered team ahead of the match. “The coach’s job is to keep the players motivated all the time. My job is to install confidence in them. What I can do is to feed them with all the relevant information about the opposition team and relay my game-plan to the players. But in the end, it’s the players who will have to perform on the pitch,” exclaimed a visibly frustrated-yet-optimistic coach.

There were a lot of questions asked of the players’ individual performances, even though it is hard to point a finger towards one or two players when the team collectively has failed to lift themselves up to the level of their opponents, who were in a much better state both physically and technically. The coach hinted that there could be a number of changes in the starting eleven, including at least a couple in the midfield, and at least one in defence due to Nasiruddin Chowdhury’s injury in the first match.

The players were down, but they were looking to shrug off the frustration and win on Saturday against a side that sits 22 places above them according to current FIFA rankings.

“The hunger to win was missing from our players. It was a collective failure and not any individual player should be put on the dock,” skipper Mamunul Islam said. “It is best for us to forget what happened in the last match, but take a lesson from it so that we can overcome the next hurdle.”

The Maldivians are currently in second position in group A, thanks to a comfortable 3-1 win over Bhutan on Thursday. Although the Maldivian forward line, comprising the region’s most lethal striker Ali Ashfaq and the two wingers – Imaaz Ahmed, Ahmed Shafiu – with centre-forward Abdulla Asadullah in front, could pose a considerable threat to any team of this region, their defence seems a bit vulnerable, having leaked in a goal and almost conceding another against Bhutan.

Having analysed the opposition, the Bangladesh team believe it is quite possible to win against Maldives, against whom Bangladesh enjoy a 3-2 win record in 10 meetings at international level even though they had lost the last meeting by 3-1 goals four years ago.

The match will kick off at 4:00pm Bangladesh time and will be followed by the other Group A match between Afghanistan and Bhutan. Both the matches will be telecast live on Star Sports 4.


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