Bangladesh coach Jamie Day believes Palestine will be the favourites against his team in today’s opening match of the Bangabandhu National Gold Cup despite the defending champions bringing a second-string side to compete in the six-nation tournament.
The match will kick off at 5:00pm at the Bangabandhu National Stadium, with BTV and RTV telecasting it live.
Palestine team, ranked 106th in FIFA, feature only six players who were part of their 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in their last World Cup qualifying fixture in November last year. There are seven Olympic-squad players while the other 10 players are from domestic-league teams.
During the pre-tournament press conference at the BFF house yesterday, Bangladesh coach Day said they would need to perform like they did against Qatar and India if they are to get a result against Palestine.
“We want to kick off the tournament on a positive note as we want to win every game. Palestine are a good team on paper. It’s not the same team that came last year but they have some technically good players despite not sending their best players.
“Some of them played in under-23 tournament in Bahrain. We have better chance and we have home advantage but still Palestine will be favourites [against us]. But if we play well and get support from the stands, we may win the game. If we repeat the performance like we did against India, Qatar and first half against Oman, it will make things difficult for Palestine,” Day said.
The 40-year-old coach had a closed-door session at the Sheikh Jamal DC ground yesterday as their final preparation. Defender Tapu Barman, midfielder Mamunul Islam and striker Matin Mia are likely to come in place of Riyadul Hasan, injured Biplu Ahmed and fever-hit Nabib Newaz Jibon in the starting eleven which played against Oman in November. Day also worked closely with winger Rabiul Hasan, forward Mahbubur Rahman Sufil and defender Sushanta Tripura in training.
Even though the national team played well against Qatar and India, the under-23 side were below-par in the South Asian Games where they lost against Bhutan and Nepal, drawing against Maldives and winning against Sri Lanka.
Captain Jamal Bhuiyan wants to recover from that poor display through the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in order to prove a point.
“Those who played the SA Games know they didn’t perform well. So this is a good chance to recover from that and to show everyone that SA Games was a mistake and we can do better,” Jamal said. “This time the preparation and practice has been good. We want to give our best as it is the 100th year of Bangabandhu’s birth. It will be a big history not only for Bangladesh, but also for the players.”
Palestine are also looking forward to defending the title with the squad they have.
“We are the defending champions and we came here to win it even though we had only four days’ preparation with six players from the World Cup qualifying squad, seven from Olympic team and ten local players. The other regular players couldn’t come because it is not usual FIFA window. But we are confident with the players we have,” said Palestine’s Tunisian coach Makram Daboub, who however believes Bangladesh have improved a lot.
Bangladesh held Palestine to a 1-1 draw in their first meeting in the 2006 AFC Challenge Cup before losing three times, including the last one (2-0) during the last edition of the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in 2018.
The four other teams
Mauritius is an East African nation, which is more popular for its tourism than football. Mauritius coach Francisco Filho informed that they have come here with a youthful squad, with six players from the under-17 side. According to Filho, Mauritius do not have any professional league but they have two leagues which are not high in standard. Interestingly, despite not having professional players, Mauritius football ahead of Bangladesh in FIFA ranking (172) and they are dreaming to win the title. “We have come here with a young team to gather experience because this tournament is good for our boys. We want to win but we have to be realistic because the opponents are experienced. We know our group opponents as Burundi is coming with local players and we see our chance,” said Filho.
Seychelles is another African nation more known for its tourism than football. Seychelles are ranked 200th by FIFA, but they have a good domestic structure with three leagues, the top league featuring 12 teams. They played in World Cup playoffs against Rwanda, losing 3-0 and 7-0 in September last year. Then they lost 2-1 and 1-0 against South Sudan in African Nations Cup prequalifiers in October last year. However, Seychelles coach Donanacoura is confident about winning the title. “We are well-prepared as the boys have been in full season with good shape and they are ready because our team is a mixture of young, exciting and experienced players. It will be our tournament as we have come here to win it.”
Burundi are the only team not to turn up at the official pre-tournament press conference as they were heading to the hotel at that time after landing here yesterday afternoon. Burundi are the second highest ranked side (151) in the tournament. Burundi played 14 matches last year, suffering nine defeats, drawing four and wining one against South Sudan. One of the draws came against World Cup campaigners Algeria in June last year while they drew twice against Tanzania and once against Gabon. Based on their ranking, Burundi should be one of the title contenders here and have a strong top league featuring 16 clubs.
Sri Lanka are the team that Bangladesh are most familiar with. They are taking part in this tournament for a third time after being eliminated from the group stages twice. Interestingly the islanders were pitted against Bangladesh in the same group previously and were eliminated following a defeat to the host nation. They are also the lowest-ranked side (205) in the tournament. They have lost all five of their World Cup qualifying matches, conceding 16 goals without scoring any. Sri Lanka coach Packeer Ali did not turn up at the press briefing, citing the leg-jet. Manager Colonel Pathnanathan vowed to fight against Palestine and Bangladesh to get out of the group stage with the squad comprising young and senior players.