Domestic football competitions have been in a steady position over last five years without much improvement seen in the general standard of football. The poor standard of the country’s footballers was exposed time and again when they competed at the international level in tournaments such as the biennial SAFF Championship, FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, Olympic Qualifiers or the AFC Challenge Cup.
The lack of international exposure is one of the hindrances to improvement, and thankfully the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) came forward with a new package that saw the national team playing FIFA international friendlies regularly in the last quarter of 2012.
The outcome of those friendlies against Nepal, Thailand and Malaysia might have been disappointing, but they nevertheless served the purpose of playing such friendlies, which is to judge the standard of the national team and identify the areas to work on.
Bangladesh managed to play out draws against Nepal and Malaysia but they were humiliated 5-0 at the hands of Thailand.
Just a decade ago Bangladesh could be seen fighting hard against Thailand, who have gone from strength to strength in the intervening period as a second-tier powerhouse in Asia while Bangladesh still remain in the third-tier due to irregular football activities.
The 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Thailand might be a harsh return but the defeat is an eye-opener and should tell the team management about the areas the side can improve. The result should also be an eye-opener for football officials, who generally focus on immediate results rather than long-term goals.
Playing international friendlies regularly will help the players hone their skills and match temperament, and provide valuable experience while also get used to playing together and bond before a major tournament gets underway. The matches against international sides will also give the coaches more opportunities to change players, formations and tactics.
No one expects the Bangladesh national football team to put in overwhelming performances in a couple of years but it is reasonable to expect that there will be gradual but steady improvement. As they get better, international success will also draw more youngsters to the game.
India can be used a classic example in this case. Once, not too long ago, they were in the same standard as Bangladesh, but took their status to enormous heights over the last decade through playing against superior sides. Initial results were not encouraging, but they stuck to their long-term plans and are now reaping the rewards as they compete in earnest against teams like Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, Jordan, Uzbekistan.
Like the international cricket matches being held in Bangladesh, the football’s governing body should stage international friendlies regularly in Dhaka that will eventually attract football spectators to stadiums now eerily empty, and the sport of football can reclaim its rightful place at the top of Bangladesh sport.
-With The Daily Star input