Finish-line anxiety and dubious refereeing decisions bring down Bangladesh
'Fortune favours the brave' as they say, and when a team play the beautiful game as if they are a player down before actually becoming one, it is akin to playing with fire, especially on the big stages like the virtual semifinal match that was played between Bangladesh and Nepal in the National Stadium of Maldives in Male yesterday.
As the clock kept ticking since the last quarter of the game with the finish line inching ever so close for Bangladesh, it was evident that the collective nerves of the men in red and green were threatening to get exposed, even before the pressure-cooker of extra-time had barely begun to whistle.
Instances of prematurely hoofing the ball out of danger when a decent passing option was available in between the lines, or running down the clock around the corner flag areas -- all that indicated a team in desperate need of a win and not bothered about how it came.
And in that period of the game, with the score still standing at 1-0 in Bangladesh's favour, albeit precariously, seeing Oscar Bruzon's charges blatantly resorting to a state of narrow mindedness, instead of displaying a composed game to aim for that killer second goal, might have made one wonder that the writing was on the wall.
And so it was, with the arrival of the pivotal moment of the match in the 79th minute. The apparent negative mindset had culminated in a short-circuit in Bangladesh's wiring and triggered an unforced blunder from Rakib Hossain, whose poorly directed and mistimed back pass from the left just asked too much from the goalkeeper Anisur Rahman Zico.
Although luck was not on Zico's side as he had almost negotiated the danger by promptly coming out of the box in time and seemingly won the race against the onrushing striker. However, the ball went on to touch his arm as he tried close down the path of his opponent, who had taken a heavy first touch.
A just decision would have been to caution the keeper with a yellow, since it was an unintentional hand-ball, but the referee seemed a little too confident while giving Zico, who played brilliantly throughout the game, the marching orders.
Ten minutes later, the referee's display of confidence amplified to a greater extent when he awarded a penalty – again, without hesitation -- but this time from afar. Replays revealed that Nepal had gotten the decision in their favour after their player, who most probably expected to receive a yellow card instead, somehow conjured a dive in the face of minimal contact.
Demoralised, devastated and depleted, there was no coming back for the men in red and green after that.
A couple of dubious refereeing decisions have arguably brought the downfall for Bangladesh but when the nerves settle, it would be better and somewhat wise for Bruzon and his men if they reflect on how they approached the end-game through a self-critical lens.
So near, yet so far as Bangladesh's SAFF 2021 campaign ends with an anticlimax.