The Bangladesh national football team returned home in the early hours of Thursday with happy faces after a spirited 2-2 draw, despite going two goals down in the first half of their FIFA friendly match, against Laos on Tuesday.
It was Bangladesh's first international match in 17 months, following their shocking 3-1 defeat against lowly Bhutan in an Asian Cup Qualifiers Playoff, and fears of further embarrassment emerged when the visitors conceded two goals in the first half. However, the men in red and green kept their nerve and turned the tables with goals from young Jafar Iqbal and Mahbubur Rahman Sufil.
Both forwards said they believed they could score like they did against India during last year's SAFF U-18 Championship.
“Before taking to the field after 17 months, a fear seemingly gripped us as to how we would show our faces to the nation if we lose the match, but we fought till the last minute to spare ourselves the blues,” Jafar told The Daily Star over phone from his home in Bandarban, where he received an overwhelming welcome from his neighbours, parents and the city mayor.
“After the first half, I set a target of scoring within 72 minutes but could not do that. Then I revised the target to 75 minutes and also failed before scoring in the 82nd minute” added Jafar, who felt that the two practice matches against Thailand Premier League clubs helped the team prepare for this international fixture.
Jafar scored the goal that gave Bangladesh rise to hopes of a comeback with an intelligent flick using the side of his boot that went past Laos goalkeeper Outthilath Nammakhot following a goalmouth scramble.
And those hopes were realised when Sufil equalised with a perfectly placed a shot after Topu Barman had teed him up with a header inside the box two minutes into added on time.
“If you have the belief of scoring, then you can score such goals in such situations,” said Jafar. “I actually grew confident about scoring when my first effort narrowly missed the target in the fifth minute.”
Jafar hardly got a chance in the playing eleven for his club Chittagong Abahani in the Bangladesh Premier League, starting in only three matches and playing 10 as a substitute.
However, Jafar shone in the SAFF U-18 Championships and won the golden boot after scoring five goals, having bagged only a single goal in the league for his side.
“During the interval, we were briefed that we had the ability to score more goals in the second half if the hosts had scored two goals. And we were all confident to reimburse the goals and put up an all-out effort till the 90th minute,” said the 20-year-old forward.
“We toiled hard for only this match, so we all were fit and played the full match with the same pace and actually that kept us in the match till the last minute,” said Sufil, who kept incredibly cool inside the box and made space to his right before placing the ball at the far post to score the equaliser.
“Fighting throughout 90 minutes is a new thing for the Bangladesh team because everyone -- from senior to junior -- fought equally,” continued Sufil, who helped Arambagh win the Independence Cup title.
Jafar however, urged the game's governing body to arrange more FIFA friendlies in the future so that national players can get out of the string of disappointing performances through continuous improvement.