We have come to Kolkata, which is just another Bengal. It actually feels like we came to play to our own country and I believe we will get support from the people of Kolkata.
BANGLADESH MIDFIELDER, MAMUNUL ISLAM
“I can still remember wasting a chance to equalise about ten minutes before the final whistle. I watched the ball drift over the crossbar with the Indian goalkeeper [Atanu Bhattacherjee] out of position when I took the shot from the edge of the box.”
Ashraful Uddin Ahmed Chunnu thusly recalled his memory of the Bangladesh-India qualifier for the Mexico World Cup in 1985 at the newly-built Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata.
34 years later, Bangladesh are again up against the hosts at the same venue and in the same competition. The home side, on the back of 10 days of preparation in Guwahati, landed in Kolkata yesterday, two days after Bangladesh reached the city known as the ‘Mecca of Indian football’.
Bangladesh have played in eight World Cup qualifying campaigns after the 1986 World Cup but their best result remains from 1985 when they got wins against Thailand and Indonesia in Dhaka. However, they could not conquer the group’s other opponent, India, who twice beat Bangladesh 2-1.
“The weather was hot and humid and the gallery was packed. Although we could not play our natural game, we played well against India’s best team which comprised players like Krishanu Dey, Bikash Panji, Atanu Bhattarcharjee and many others,” former Bangladesh international Chunnu, who scored a goal in a 2-1 win over Indonesia in 1985, added.
In the game against India, Bangladesh went ahead through a strike from Ashish Bhadra in the 15th minute before Bikash Panji, who also struck against Bangladesh in Dhaka, equalised in the 36th minute. Substitute Camillo Gonsalves found the winner in the 40th to help India finish second behind Indonesia in the four-team group.
Chunnu said that while Bangladesh felt the heat, they always got moral support from the crowd in Kolkata as many Bangladeshi played in the Kolkata League.
Current national team midfielder Mamunul Islam believes that they will continue to receive similar support.
“We have come to Kolkata, which is just another Bengal. It actually feels like we came to play to our own country and I believe we will get support from the people of Kolkata,” Mamunul said yesterday when asked whether they expected support from the gallery.
Whatever the Bangladesh former captain expects, the Salt Lake Stadium -- officially known as the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Stadium -- is expected to be a full house as Kolkata will host the India national team after eight years.
Cricket-loving taxi driver Santosh, who drove this reporter from the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport to a Marquis Street hotel, did not buy a ticket to the game. However, he mentioned that the football lovers were euphoric about the game. The ground staff at the Salt Lake Stadium and local journalists also mentioned that most of the seats at the 85,000-capacity venue were already sold.
Jamie Day’s charges will have to hurdle two challenges, the fast-improving India and its huge Kolkata support, in order to get one over India, who are now 85 places ahead of Bangaldesh in the FIFA Rankings.
In 1985, players like Mohsin, Nasir Ahmed Alok, Imtiaz Sultan Jony, Badal Das, Azmat Ali, Swapan Kumar Das, Wasim Iqbal, Elias Hossain, Ashish Bhadra, Chunnu and Kaiser Hamid could not conquer India. Now the onus is on a new group of young footballers to make history.
“We are prepared. The team who will perform on the day will come out winners. We have remained in good shape after the Qatar match,” said goalkeeper Ashraful Islam Rana following Bangladesh’s nearly two-hour practice session yesterday.