A fleeting spark that only papered over the cracks | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 10, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 10, 2018

A fleeting spark that only papered over the cracks

Over the last three weeks some positive energy was injected into Bangladesh's otherwise moribund football. A 1-1 draw with Thailand followed by an outstanding 1-0 victory against Qatar in the Asian Games forced the otherwise reluctant home fans to take note of that success.

In that context the SAFF Championship, which can be considered a poor man's World Cup, provided the ideal platform for our football officials to draw fans into the country's long-deserted premier venue -- the Bangabandhu National Stadium (BNS) which is hosting the regional football extravaganza for the third time.

After two wins by the home side -- 2-0 against Bhutan and 1-0 over Pakistan -- it looked like the BNS was getting its soul back with fans turning up in numbers with renewed hope. And for the last few days the atmosphere offered a glimpse of what football meant for the sporting fraternity of the country from the 70s to the early 90s.

To be honest not many even knew the names of the central defenders, the midfielders or the forwards in Bangladesh's line-up before the opening game against Bhutan. But by the time they had played their three group league fixtures and made a painful exit after conceding a 2-0 defeat to Nepal on Saturday night in front of a near-packed audience, the fans across the country at least acknowledged a few by name as heroes or villains.

The image of centre-back Tapu Barman, who scored in the first two games, young striker Mahabubur Rahman Sufil, who struck a wonderful goal against Bhutan, and goalkeeper Shahaidul Alam Sohel, whose butterfingers cost Bangladesh dearly against Nepal, will certainly linger in the minds of the home fans for a while.

The muted love for football among the fans was quite evident as the Sohel gaffe was the most talked about issue on Sunday; not only in sporting circles but beyond that.

It only reminded of those days when football was a daily dose of entertainment in the country and the booters were household names.

Football was very popular then. But it was not that Bangladesh were one of the best teams in Asia. The SAFF Championship was the ultimate goal for Bangladesh at that time too. The only difference between now and then is quality, which was aplenty before.

Alfaz Ahmed, who started his career as a left-back and ended up as a prolific striker, and Imtiaz Ahmed Nakib, one of the few fantastic forwards with a lethal head, were right to say that the preset Bangladesh side do not deserve to cross the first-round barrier and that they were very lucky to win their first two games. They are probably the last two marksmen of three golden generations before the country's football started to decline.

Even if we accept their observation as a ground reality, it still cannot take the gloss out of what this team has done in the Asian Games, something that even the golden generation of booters failed to emulate.

This is a young team born out of necessity and through a club system which still runs with that pre-historic mindset. Maybe they do play like pygmies as a former finance minister of the country once famously said while refusing to allocate additional budget for the improvement of the game. They do lack the basic skill of receiving a ball properly, and more importantly don't know the art of the cut-throat modern football, where creating space as well as blocking it is the biggest challenge.

We may also accept the fact that the present generation of football fans simply refused to follow them in the SAFF Championship. Ask them and the majority will tell you that they would prefer to watch the Bangladesh girls playing than the men's team.

But a vast section of fans, past romantics, still desperately want to follow Bangladesh football and the proof was aplenty in the SAFF Championship. This is a team that showed solid defensive organisation in the Asian Games and carried it into the regional championship. What they lacked was assuming the role of predator, both in the defeat against Sri Lanka in an international friendly and against Nepal in the SAFF Championship.

If this young set keeps continuing like this and are allowed to hone their skills in a more proactive club football, where the ambition should be create homegrown midfielders and forwards, they will certainly come up with better performances in their next international assignment.

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