The Daily Star (TDS): How do you evaluate Abahani’s thrilling win over North Korea’s April 25 SC?
Sohel Rana (SR): It is not only Abahani’s win but a victory for Bangladesh football. Winning against April 25 is a positive but it was not an easy task to overcome the North Korean side as we had to face different challenges in the match. We want to carry the momentum of such performances to the club level and to the national team. This success will not inspire just Abahani but also other clubs who will play the AFC Cup next season because they will want to match Abahani’s performance.
TDS: Although they failed to retain the Bangladesh Premier League title, Abahani have created history by entering the AFC Cup knockout-stage and are on the verge of another piece of history of playing AFC Cup inter-zone finals. What is the secret behind the success in the AFC Cup?
SR : To be honest, luck did not favour us in some league matches and we lagged behind the title race but Abahani, who have been playing the AFC Cup for a long time, made it to the knockout stage for the first time. Despite there being some injury issues in the playing eleven, the team management and the coach did everything to inspire the rest of the players. They made sure that we did not feel the absence of those players and every replacement gave their utmost on the pitch. Besides, coach Mario Lemos has been a good tactician who designed the game plan according to our strengths and weaknesses, and that’s the secret recipe of our success.
TDS: Tell us about your stunning opening goal, the kind of which is not often seen from you in the domestic league? The goal is one of the candidates for goal of the week on the AFC website.
SR: I tried long-range shots in training regularly and [Kervens Fils] Belfort asked me, in the training session before the match, why I don’t try such shots in the match. I asked [Nabib Newaj] Jibon to leave it for me and I just tried to keep it on target, and the timing and connection were perfect. I have also had two similar goals in the just concluded league but those were not quite like this one. It is the best goal of my career. I will never forget about this goal. It is pleasing that my goal is a candidate for goal of the week and I will be very happy if I get the most votes.
TDS: Can Abahani defeat April 25 away and play their maiden AFC Cup inter-zone final?
SR: Definitely, it is not going to be easy but we will try to play our best to secure at least one point and book a place in the inter-zone final. I think the coach will definitely a have different game plan in the away match and we will be trying to execute that properly.
TDS: Do you think Abahani’s success can inspire the national side in the Joint Qualifiers for the World Cup and Asian Cup?
SR: I believe Abahani’s success will inspire all national players and it will be a confidence booster for Abahani players who are part of the national team.
TDS: You have been playing the professional football league since 2010, do you see any changes in the clubs’ approach?
SR: I have played for Mohammedan, Sheikh Jamal DC, Chittagong Abahani for a total of six seasons and it is my second season at Abahani. Of course, there are some changes in the clubs’ approach but they have not come about as fast as they should have. The clubs are now thinking of how to increase facilities, which were not considered before. The clubs are trying to provide support like foreign coaches, trainers, gyms, better food in a bid to get better results.
TDS: Having spent nine years in top-flight football, how would you explain Bangladesh’s football in the three phases of your career?
SR: When I started playing the BPL [in 2010], it was a very good phase because then there was significant fanfare around football and I enjoyed the company of some talented senior footballers like Rajani Kanta Barman, Hasan Al Mamun, Motiur Munna and others, and learned many things from them. But in the middle of my nine-year career, football started going backwards and we were out of international football for nearly three years after losing to Bhutan [in 2016]. We went through such a bad phase then that it is hard to forget. But now, we are recovering as the national team and club teams are performing well at international level. I think we haven’t reached the desired level but we are going towards that.
TDS: You play domestic matches, and international matches for the club and the national team. What kind of challenges have you faced at those three different levels?
SR: In domestic matches, there is hardly any challenge because we know every one of the opponents, their quality and their movements. But in international matches, we face different challenges because we don’t know their quality, their specialties and they are all quality players, so we have to be more cautious as there is no room to come back if we make mistakes.