Fifth time the charm for Bangladesh?

Bangladesh players during practice in Sylhet. Photo: Star

Being an Asian nation, Bangladesh rarely get the opportunity to play international football matches against nations from outside the continent. Bangladesh are set to play against the East African nation Seychelles at the Sylhet District Stadium today which will only be their fifth encounter against a team from Africa. 

Interestingly, Bangladesh played the previous four matches against an African nation with all footballers of Bangladeshi descent, but this time an African naturalised footballer, the Nigerian-born Eleta Kingsley, is likely to make his debut for Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh have never beaten any African sides in their previous four meetings. This time, with an aim to get their first win against an African nation, the men in red and green will play two friendlies against Seychelles -- today and on Tuesday at the same venue in Sylhet. 

Sudan were the first African side that Bangladesh played against. It was during 1979 South Korea's President's Cup and Bangladesh suffered a 4-1 defeat to Sudan with Ashrafuddin Ahmed Chunnu scoring the lone goal for the men in red and green in Seoul.   

Four years later, Bangladesh met another African nation, Algeria, in the 1983 Merdeka Cup in Malaysia. In that tournament, Bangladesh were drawn with Argentina XI, Algeria XI, South Korea, Malaysia, and Nepal. The men in red and green could only beat Nepal and lost 0-1 to Algeria XI, 2-5 to Argentina XI, 1-3 to South Korea, and 0-1 to Malaysia.

With the volume of invitational international tournaments reducing over the years, Bangladesh invited three African nations -- Burundi, Mauritius, and Seychelles -- to play in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in 2020, in which Bangladesh suffered a 0-3 defeat to Burundi in semifinals in Dhaka.

The next year, Bangladesh squared off against Seychelles in the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakasa four-nation international tournament in Sri Lanka. That time Bangladesh surrendered a lead and had to stay satisfied with a 1-1 draw. Mohammad Ibrahim, who scored from long range to give Bangladesh the lead in that game, has not been selected in the final 23-member squad this time despite training with the preliminary squad till Friday in Sylhet.     

With history not on their side, taking on even an amateur Seychelles today seem not to be an easy task for the charges of Spanish coach Javier Cabrera.

"Seychelles are a physical team and there are several individuals in the squad and we have to be aware of it, especially up front. They have some good capable players who can adapt [to different conditions] and that is the point," said Cabrera ahead of the match which is set to get underway at 3:45pm in Sylhet.

Having recalled the match against Seychelles they played in Sri Lanka, Captain Jamal Bhuiyan said they are focused to get a victory after managing to win only one out of eight international matches last year.

"Like every other match, we are taking the first match against Seychelles very seriously. Besides, we are going to play at home after one year, so we have to give the best performance. We want to give something good to the crowd and the supporters," said Jamal.

Jamal added, "That time [against Seychelles in Sri Lanka], we played better in the first half and we were a bit down in the second half after some changes. They [Seychelles] were strong in counter-attack and we also conceded from the counterattack. This time we have to be careful about their counterattack. I think we had a chance to win that match. But football is a matter of goals and we have to score to win the match."

Naturalised footballer Eleta, who is likely to make his debut for Bangladesh, is happy to be part of the final 23-member squad.

"I feel very happy for myself and for my wife. I think everyone is looking forward to this day. I believe If everything goes well, I can play the match," said Eleta, who has already worn the jersey of red and green in an unofficial match against Malawi in Saudi Arabia. 


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