Dhaka, Sep 6 (UNB) – The beginning of the 12th edition of the SAFF Championship is marked by three unique features.
There are – revival of football’s popularity in the country with each game proving to be formidable crowd-puller, live telecast of the games via country’s first commercial satellite Bangabandhu-1, and comeback of Pakistan after a four-year break including a suspension from international football by FIFA.
Bangladesh hosting the seven-nation biennial event – this time named as the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018 – for the third time, after 2003 and 2009, and got off to a flying start on Tuesday with a 2-0 win against visiting Bhutan, the side that kept Bangladesh out of the international circuit for long 17-month by defeating Bangladesh by 3-1 goals in the ACC Asia Cup Qualifiers in Thimphu back in 2016.
The home of Bangladesh football, Bangabandhu National Stadium (BNS) with a capacity of 23000 suffered crowd droughts for a long time, but the opening day’s Bangladesh-Bhutan match pulled a good 12000-strong crowd. Braving intermittent rains the local spectators continued to enjoy the English coach Jamie Day boys’ early success in the very first match.
Jamie Day was pleased with his team performance. On Tuesday night speaking at the post-match press conference he said, “The boys played very well and I think, we deserved the win tonight.”
Earlier, a day before the match day the coach Jamie Day said, “I’m not looking in the past. We are looking forward, after a long preparation. We have 20 players and we will play match by match.” He was speaking at the pre-match press conference at BFF House.
However, in the last three editions of the SAFF Championships, Bangladesh finished their journey from the group stage after a successful title-winning campaign in 2003.
Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) Local Organising Committee (LOC) chairman and BFF Senior-vice President Abdus Salam Murshedy earlier expected a revival of national football team’s popularity through this ongoing event.
“We need only a winning start to bring back our football loving people to the stadium as I believe football is still a popular game in Bangladesh. I hope Bangladesh will play the final,” Murshedy said on August 31.
The BFF President Kazi Salahuddin also expressed optimism this time about having a good result in the tournament. He said, “As a footballer, I can say, the level of the participating nations of this event is much higher than any other SAFF event held before. I hope we’ll be the champions. As the BFF president, I’ve done enough for the national team’s preparations. I hope we’ll get a good result.”
The BFF president was speaking on logo unveiling ceremony on September 3.
Meanwhile, country’s first commercial satellite station has made its debut on an experimental operation by facilitating Bangladesh Television (BTV) air the SAFF Championship matches.
Bangladesh entered the elite Space Club of 57 nations with the launch of its first geostationary communications satellite, Bangabandhu-1, into the orbit by US space transport company SpaceX on May 12, 2018. The satellite was launched using the latest version of SpaceX's upgraded Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket, from the historic Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. The slot was rented from Russian satellite company Intersputnik for $28 million in January 2015.
Another feature of this edition of SAFF game is Pakistan’s first appearance in international football after a four year lull. Pakistan have overcome their frustration, making a winning return into the international football as they started their campaign in the meet with a 2-1 win against Nepal in the tournament opener also on September 4.
The ban on Pakistan, which was imposed due to third-party interference in the Pakistan Football Federation’s (PFF) affairs, has been withdrawn by FIFA in March 2018.
The biggest football festival of the region--The SAFF Suzuki Cup -- will end with its final on September 15 where host Bangladesh was placed in Group ‘A’ with Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan and Group ‘B’ comprises defending champions India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives to qualify the semifinals.
Bangladesh are now at the top of the group table ahead of Pakistan by virtue of goal difference.
Three cheers for SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018
Wahid Ullah Bakul, UNB Staff Writer