At the Bashundhara Kings Arena yesterday, 10-man Bangladesh beat Maldives 2-1 in the second leg of the preliminary round to advance to the World Cup Qualifiers with a 3-2 aggregate win. Despite late pressure, Bangladesh was able to shrug it off and move on to the next round.
To ensure a spot in Group I, which also includes Australia, Palestine, and Lebanon, forwards Rakib Hossain and Faisal Ahmed Fahim scored one goal each before and after the Maldives’ equaliser was scored by Aisam Ibrahim.
The victory means that the men playing in red and green will have six home and away matches during the group stage of the qualifications. The men’s first match will be against Australia and will take place on November 16 in Melbourne.
The previous week, Bangladesh and Maldives played to a 1-1 tie in Male, and they came into this encounter knowing that a loss would result in them being banned from participating in competitive international football for an entire year. At the Kings Arena, where they had previously played out two draws against Afghanistan a month ago, Javier Cabrera’s charges did not disappoint the 7000-strong audience. Earlier in the month, they had played out two draws against Afghanistan.
The Maldives got off to a fantastic start and dominated play for the first ten minutes of the match. However, Bangladesh seized control of the game in the 11th minute and scored a goal against the flow of play to break the deadlock.
Isa Faisal was replaced by Saad Uddin in the starting eleven. Saad Uddin then unleashed a thunderous through-pass that appeared to be heading for the touchline. However, Fahim sprinted magnificently down the left side to cut it back for Rakib, who gently slotted home the goal to send the fans into rapture.
The guys playing in red and green created three more opportunities, but Hussain Shareef, the custodian, was able to save Rakib and Fahim’s shots, while Rakib himself came close to scoring by hitting the crossbar.
Mitul Marma made a fantastic stop at the other end to thwart a powerful shot from Hamza Mohamed, but the young custodian was powerless in the 36th minute when Aisam headed home when a corner from Hamza came his way following a deflection from Fahim. Mitul Marma made the save.
However, Fahim made amends and restored Bangladesh’s lead in the opening minute of the second half with a powerful drive from within the box after Saad whipped in a cross from the left side of the pitch. The goal came after Fahim made atonement for his earlier error.
At the hour mark, Bangladesh took a significant hit when Mohammad Sohel Rana was shown a second yellow card for an unnecessary foul on an opponent’s player inside the opposition’s half of the pitch. This was a tremendous setback for Bangladesh.
Despite this, Bangladesh displayed remarkable composure in the final thirty or so minutes of the match, and they were able to walk away from the arena victorious over the island nation.