Cabrera wants to ‘keep believing’

Bangladesh head coach Javier Cabrera (L) and his charges when the national anthem was played before the Turkmenistan match kicked off. Photo: BFF

It might have been tough to find even a single Bangladesh football fan who expected anything big from the national football team when a depleted squad left the country last month.

In Kuala Lumpur, Bangladesh played the Asian Cup Qualifiers after a long 16-year gap and the men in red and green, scheduled to arrive home early hours today, would be returning with a wooden spoon. However, they have given reasons to be hopeful of the future.

Bangladesh In their maiden appearance had brilliantly booked a place in the final round of 1980 Asian Cup after finishing behind group champions Qatar in the qualifying round. Unfortunately, they could never repeat that feat in the next seven attempts, which included the just-concluded qualifiers in Malaysia.

One feat, however negative, the men in red and green repeated was failing to notch a single point and thus matched what their predecessors did in the qualifying rounds in 1992 and 2006.

To steal a point against high-ranked Bahrain, Turkmenistan and hosts Malaysia  was definitely going to be uphill tasks for Jamal and Co. But Bangladesh's brave and fighting attitude in the first two games had caught the attention of all even though the scenario was radically different against Malaysia in the last match.

During the tenure of former British coach Jamie Day, Bangladesh national team had the tag of a defensive team. But now, through 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers, the tag has been partially removed under the guidance of Javier Cabrera.

The Spaniard had repeatedly told the media that he first wanted to make Bangladesh a competitive side at international stage since he took charge in January. Cabrera, however, could not prove his claim during the first two FIFA friendlies against Maldives and Mongolia.

Cabrera was able to show a bit of improvement in a goalless draw against high-ranked Indonesia before the start of Asian Cup Qualifiers. And during the Qualifiers, he garnered praise for the approach his charges showed in the losing battles against 89th-ranked Bahrain and 134th-ranked Turkmenistan.

"There were some improvements in the performance. The boys did well to counter the opponents after keeping the midfield compact. Besides, it was also rare that some three to four players joined in the attack.

"It was also proved that we can fight well if the opponents can give us space. The team also created some goal scoring chances but they could not cash in due to lack of individual decision making," former national coach Saiful Bari Titu told The Daily Star.

"However, the team lacked consistent performances as usual as the boys collapsed down in the pressure or crunch moments. We have to improve in these areas.

"Yesterday, Malaysia broke the blocks Bangladesh made to stop them. We have to improve the long-ball defending and set-piece defending, through which we conceded five goals, though the boys did well in the primary defending on the set-piece but they could not do well in secondary defending on set-pieces," said the former national player.

"If we want to get results at the international stage, we must create more capable players. If we can make competitiveness among the players, then the best will come from those players and we have to ensure it."

Terming the Malaysia game as a tough game at the post-match conference, Cabrera said, "We knew they were coming very strong at the start and we have to hold them. Somehow we managed to hold them but they were again very impressive from the first minute.

"After the penalty, we managed to come into the game up until half-time, even though we did not find our game. We were not able to find our game consistently in any moments of the game."

The 37-year-old Spanish coach was also not happy with the performance against Malaysia but wanted to keep going.

"It cannot happen that you lose one game, the way we lost today in a bigger margin, and you give up. This is not the way.

Bangladesh head coach Javier Cabrera during the training session ahead of the Malaysia encounter. Photo: BFF

"That's not what we are here to do. We have been very competitive against other teams. Today we had our moments but there were some moments we were not consistent.

"We even created some chances and we were alive in the first half. I want to believe in what we do. If we keep believing in what we do then for sure we are going to keep improving because we have already improved," said Cabrera.