Bangladesh's sorry record continues
Goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel came full circle in very unwanted fashion as Bangladesh's failure to reach the semifinals of the SAFF Championship extended to a fourth successive edition following a 2-0 defeat to Nepal at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
The 29-year-old goalkeeper let slip through his hands a regulation catch from Nepal No. 10 Bimal Gharti Magar's free-kick in the 33rd minute as the hosts' early dominance gave way to some haphazard football in the middle.
Despite three changes in the eleven early in the second half and a lot of huffing and puffing from the men in red, the defeat looked inevitable as the clock ticked down.
And to leave no doubt as to which was the more deserving side to go through, they conceded a second goal right before the final whistle, a fine finish from Nepal substitute Nawayug Shreshtha.
The end was nothing like the beginning, both in the match and in the tournament.
The hosts, who needed only a draw to advance, looked more adventurous in the opening half hour than their opposition, who needed a victory to reach the last four.
The hosts had good reason to be adventurous too as they had lost against the same opposition in the group stages of the 2011 and 2013 editions of the regional tournament.
The men in red did make some early inroads, earning a number of corner kicks and a free-kick from a dangerous position, but the final act was always missing.
But that unfortunate goal turned things upside down.
Magar's free-kick was more of a chip than a shot and it came at a comfortable height, a regulation catch at any level of professional football. But the veteran goalkeeper from Abahani seemed to be caught in two minds, palming it into the back of his net.
It was not the first time that Sohel had conceded a goal like that. Susceptible in the air throughout his career, Sohel has a history of making costly errors in crucial times. He had made a similar mistake from a free-kick from then Nepal Skipper Sagar Thapa during the 2011 SAFF Championship in Delhi, dashing Bangladesh's hopes of a semifinal berth. The other day his error in judgement led Bangladesh to a 1-0 defeat against Sri Lanka in a pre-tournament friendly in Nilphamari.
The goal against the run of play seemed to have a devastating impact on the psyche of Jamie Day's men as they started to make too many errors, tried to hurriedly clear the ball away from their own half and found little room to manoeuvre the ball past a disciplined Nepal defence.
Day made three changes in a desperate attempt early in the second half, but the lack of creativity, especially in midfield, meant Bangladesh failed to pose any real threat to the opposition goal.
Nepal virtually dug themselves inside their own half for the last half hour, helping Bangladesh launch into attacks but allowing little space to manoeuvre the ball in the attacking third.
Substitute striker Shakhawat Hossain Rony had a shot in anger from outside the box in the 80th minute, but that was the best they could get. Sohel, at the other end, tried to make amends for his earlier mistake by making two fine saves in the 54th minute and in the 87th minute, but there was no redeeming the impact of his costly blunder from the first half.
And then Nawayug's fine strike from inside the box in the 90th minute sealed the fate of the game beyond doubt, ending Bangladesh's campaign prematurely yet again.
It was a sorry end to a promising campaign which had gathered steam with wins in the first two matches, building on the historic run in the recent Asian Games and drawing on an expectant full-house crowd at the Big Bowl, only to leave everyone with a lot of frustration and anguish in the end.