Bangladesh's campaign in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup came to an end with a 2-0 defeat against Palestine in the second semifinal at the Birshrehtha Shaheed Ruhul Amin Stadium in Cox's Bazar yesterday, but not before the hosts won hearts with their brave performance.
Mohammad MM Balah and substitute Sameh FM Maraaba scored in each half to ensure Palestine's final berth in their first-ever appearance in the tournament, but the home side gave a run for the money to their superior counterparts, who are 93 places ahead in FIFA rankings.
The pre-tournament favourites Palestine will play the final against Tajikistan at the Bangabandhu National Stadium tomorrow.
A defeat for the home side was not unexpected against a side they never beat since the latter's entrance in international football in 1998 and the margin of defeat could have been bigger, but the home side played a lot better against the top-ranked side compared to Palestine's group-stage opponents Nepal and Tajikistan.
However, it was skillful Palestine who availed the opportunities with both hands as they had the physical edge over the Bangladeshi players on the fast-paced ground amid drizzle.
Since the kick-off, Palestine threatened the home side with their speedy run and puzzled the Bangladesh defence, who however negotiated well to counter-press and impress the 10,000 capacity crowd.
With both sides starting to display entertaining football, Palestine broke the deadlock in the eighth minute as Musab Ki Battat shrugged off two markers to release a well-judged cross from the right flank and towering Mohammad Balah headed home effortlessly.
After conceding the lead, Bangladesh put up really good performance with Biplu Ahmed penetrating from the left flank while hard-working striking pair of Mahabubur Rahman Sufil and Nabib Newaj Jibon threatened to equaliser. Left-back Biswanath Ghosh and hard-working midfielder Masuk Mia Jonny were also brilliant on the field to show never-say-die attitude throughout the match.
Jonny tried from distance with goalkeeper Rami ka Hamada gripping the ball in his second attempt in the 13th minute while Biplu came close to levelling the margin with the goalkeeper to beat but the winger was denied by a timely intervention from defender Battat in the 21st minute.
It was again Bangladesh, who came close to reimbursing the goal in the stoppage time of the first half but Jibon, availing a through-pass from Sufil, struck the side netting, much to the relief of Palestine goalkeeper Hamada.
Bangladesh kept on pressing for the equaliser after the break, forcing Palestine on the backfoot as all 11 of their players trenched inside their own half. But Bangladesh saw another chance go in vain, with Jibon failing to connect to a Biswanath long-ball despite getting the opponent goalkeeper alone.
As Bangladesh looked desperate for the equaliser, Palestine launched a few good counter-attacks but they were either denied by goalkeeper Ahsraful Islam Rana or missed the target despite beating the goalkeeper.
But they ensured the victory by scoring the second goal in the stoppage time of the second half when Oday Im Dabbagh headed down a cross from Yazan Laiwai for substitute Sameh FM Maraaba, who slotted home from inside the box.
But the men in red and green left the field with heads held high with their brave performance and the spectators gave them a standing ovation as the players waved towards the spectators for coming to the stadium and supporting them throughout the match.