"First of all, we all tried to win the match."
A Bangladesh footballer's first words being laced by regret after a draw on the international stage would be surprising by itself, but the context makes Tapu Barman's sentence seem tame. Bangladesh had trailed Afghanistan by a goal virtually since the 48th minute and, after numerous attempts, finally found the equaliser they needed when Tapu swiveled home and finished fiercely in the 84th minute.
That would have been, and in the end had to be, enough for the men in red and green. But what could not be lost on viewers was the desire that each member of the team showed.
Tapu Barman issued the first challenge, fearlessly sliding in and winning the ball to break up a move in the eighth minute, which led to the first of many Bangladesh counter-attacks on the night.
Another chance borne purely of tenacity followed soon, when Matin Mia misjudged Jamal Bhuiyan's pass and let it go over his head. The Afghan defence expected their goalkeeper to get the ball, unaware that Masuk Mia Johnny had already sensed their disinterest and was striding from behind them onto the ball. The sequence led to a decent chance, with Jonny getting close to goal and firing a ball across that was deflected away by Milad Intezar's body.
But desire is a hard thing to hold on to, as other Bangladesh teams can attest. Afghanistan pounced on the only lapse that the Bangladesh defence presented and continued to dominate the ball, wearing down Bangladesh.
"In the second half, when you switch off in international football, you're going to concede goals. And that's exactly what happened," head coach Jamie Day said of the build-up to the opening goal after the match.
Then, with about 10 minutes to go, substitute Manik Hossain Mollah played the pass of the evening, casually rolling the ball before whipping it across the pitch, over the defence and perfectly into the path Mohammad Abdullah. It was the kind of magical pass that almost deserves a goal, but the chance went begging due to a tame attempt to finish and the goalkeeper's outstretched legs.
It would have been easy for Bangladesh to drop their heads then. Instead, they appeared fueled by the miss, almost insistent that another chance would come.
That opportunity fell Tapu's way just three minutes later, when he found himself near the penalty spot with Masih Saighani on his shoulder and a ball headed his way. The defender coolly chested it down before turning on a dime and finishing hard and low, but Bangladesh's appetite could not be sated.
Three minutes later, Bangladesh won the ball back and transitioned as quickly as they had been all night, leaving Matin Mia with only Masih Saighani between him and a clear chance at goal. Unfortunately, Matin could not outrun, outfox nor outmuscle the Afghan, a problem Bangladesh's attackers had to contend with throughout the game.
Staunchly, they refused to be outworked. That was the department they had control over and that was where their desire shone through the most. Even in stoppage time, with the ball out of play for a throw in near the Afghan box, Matin Mia urged a teammate to get into the right position to intercept the ball.
It was what left them relishing Monday's clash against India.
"We started with positive approach and hoping that this outcome will encourage us in the next match against India. We will definitely go there for win and play as a team, which we proved today by performing with our heart and soul," Barman said.
Day added that Bangladesh could be proud for having added to their points tally and hoped the momentum could be carried into the next game.
"We showed tonight that we are ready to work hard to get back into the game. We showed character. We enjoyed tonight and we're going to work hard to get back on track and see if we can reach the same level against India and Oman."