U-23 booters dream big
Despite facing a lot of odds including player shortage, Bangladesh under-23 football team have set their sights on the final round of the AFC U-23 Asian Cup.
The men in red and green have been pitted against Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines in Group H, with 11 group winners and four best runners-up teams slated to join hosts Qatar for the 16-team final round to be held in 2024.
Bangladesh will play against Malaysia on September 6 before facing Thailand and Philippines on September 9 and 12 respectively in Chonburi, Thailand.
Ahead of the competition, head coach Zulfiker Mahmud Mintu had only three weeks to prepare his squad, which is missing several key players including Rimon Hossain, Faisal Ahmed Fahim, Mohammad Ridoy, Sheikh Morsalin, Dipok Roy, Mitul Marma and Mojibur Rahman Jonny due to the national team's matches against Afghanistan.
"We worked mostly those players whose fitness was not up to mark following the completion of the league. Our video analyst analysed videos of Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines who recently played in AFF U-23 Championship. We haven't noticed any big difference with us except for the understanding level of their players," Mintu said at an official press conference at the BFF House yesterday.
"It is important for the players to believe that they can compete against them because the game is also mental and psychological. I think if we can avoid silly mistakes, we can produce good results and advance to the next level. However, qualifying for the next stage depends on collection of points in the first match against Malaysia," said Mintu, who is set to guide an age-group national team for the first time after having previously worked as an assistant coach in the senior national team.
Bangladesh have never qualified for the final round of this competition, having registered only one win in 15 matches so far.