A late header from defender Tapu Barman powered Bangladesh to a hard fought 1-0 win over Pakistan in a Group A encounter of the SAFF Suzuki Cup at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
With back-to-back wins, the hosts top the group with the maximum six points from two outings, three ahead of Pakistan and Nepal, who still have a chance to catch up by posting wins in their last matches of the group stage.
Bangladesh, however, need at least a draw in their final group match against Nepal to ensure a semifinal berth.
With five minutes plus stoppage time remaining, defender Tapu, who also scored against Bhutan, handed Bangladesh the crucial goal with a stunning header. Left-back Bishwanath Gosh's long throw seemed to be drifting away but Tapu emerged from nowhere to nod home from close range to send nearly 20,000 spectators into a wild frenzy.
After scoring, Tapu pulled off his jersey and jumped triumphantly in the air for which the tall defender was understandably booked by the Iranian referee. Bangaldesh then held the slender lead for the final ten minutes, including the five mintues of added time, to leave the field with their second consecutive win, a rare feat for the national football team of late.
Following the final whistle, Tapu was paraded on the shoulders of his teammates as he helped keep the host's unbeaten record against Pakistan on home soil intact.
A lot of spectators stayed behind after the game to cheer the team as they left the field, chanting 'Bangladesh! Bangladesh!'. Some players were seen stopping to shake hands with their fans before heading to the dressing room.
Before the match, the Pakistani players' heights came into question when the hosts were discussing whether to break the opposition backline through the flanks. Hardly a single proper cross was whipped in throughout the first half and the midfielders and defenders' relentless balls over the top were also easily dealt with by the Pakistan defenders, marshalled by former Fulham academy defender Zeshan Rehman.
Instead of keeping the ball on the ground, Jamie Day's charges chose an aerial approach even down the middle but the boys in red and green were stopped time and again by Pakistan's supremacy in the air, which prevented the attacking third from penetrating the backline.
Bangladesh came close to conceding the lead in the eighth minute when Denmark-based striker Muhammad Ali struck a quick header off a Shabaz Younas cross from the right flank. However, goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel tipped the goal-bound shot over the crosspiece at the cost of corner. The home team attempted a few other attacks sporadically with Jamal Bhuiyan, Saad Uddin, Biplu Ahmed trying from a distance but hardly troubling Pakistan goalkeeper Yousaf Ijaz Butt.
The tension weighing on Bangladesh coach Jamie Day in the first half was visible as the 38-year-old coach lifted three fingers to the fourth referee, indicating that the three minutes of added time had ended.
After resumption, Bangladesh looked a bit more organised. The hosts survived a scare when defender Tutul Hossain Badsha fumbled, losing the ball to Muhammad Ali, who darted into the box from the left to drive a powerful shot in the 55th minute. However, goalkeeper Sohel brilliantly thwarted it with one hand. Tapu also squandered a good opportunity in the 82nd minute when he floated a shot from inside the six-yard box over the post, but the defender eventually made amends three minutes later by providing the decisive goal.