Bangladesh failed miserably in trying to lift their performance for the do-or-die match in the football event of the South Asian (SA) Games and exited the race for gold after a 1-0 defeat to defending champions Nepal at the Dasarath Rangasala in Kathmandu yesterday.
A second defeat in four matches means two-time champions Bangladesh finished third with four points in the five-team group table, leaving Tuesday’s gold-deciding match to be contested by Bhutan and hosts Nepal, who finished on nine and 10 points from four outings respectively.
After some bold performances from the Red and Greens in the joint qualifiers for the World Cup and Asian Cup, expectations of regaining a gold medal in the regional multi-sport extravaganza after nine years were heightened. But Jamie Day’s charges frustrated with consistently poor performances from an Olympic squad that consisted of 16 players from the senior national team.
Bangladesh had no option other than going for a win to equal Nepal on points and topple the defending champions on head-to-head if they were to set a final against Bhutan, but Bangladesh lacked composure in the attacking third and had only two shots on target.
Misplaced passes and potshots were eyesores but losing their temperament and arguing with the referee’s decisions time and again was unexpected, especially when the team needed to stay calm against a team that have always been formidable in their home ground in front of capacity crowds.
Nepal, coming into the match after playing their third match the previous day, stunned Bangladesh and took an 11th-minute lead. Nepal captain Sujal Shrestha released a cutback between two Bangladeshi players to an unmarked Sunil Bal, who brilliantly shaped his body and placed the ball to the far post with his right foot from inside six-yard box.
After conceding, Bangladesh looked hurried in search of an equaliser and the pressure mounted on Nepal. The hosts conceded six corners in the first half, but a there was a lack of bite upfront and Nepal goalkeeper Bikesh Kuthu did well under the post to thwart all aerial balls.
Bangladesh survived a close-call in the 56th minute when a shot from Sunil narrowly missed the far post and the hosts came close to conceding in the 61st minute when Jamal Bhuiyan set up Mohammad Ibrahim only to see the latter’s shot go inches wide of the far post.
Jamal Bhuiyan’s red card in stoppage time was rubbing salt in the wound for Bangladesh, who had to settle for back-to-back bronze medals.