March window solved, what about May?
On Friday night, the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) issued a press release saying it will organise a tri-nation tournament involving Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan Olympic team and the host country.
This should have come as good tidings at any other time, but in the current context it is not so as it means that Bangladesh have all but given up hope of hosting Afghanistan on March 25 in a crucial World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying fixture in Sylhet.
The Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) has not officially ruled out the possibility yet but the postponement looked imminent ever since Asian football's governing body, AFC, passed the buck on to Bangladesh and Afghanistan to come to a settlement over the issue.
Last Wednesday when BFF president Kazi Salahuddin was asked whether they were intent on playing in Nepal or still hopeful about hosting Afghanistan in March, he claimed the issue with Afghanistan was still in the balance and that they were focusing on that match. "There is Plan A, B and C. Let's say we are still sticking to Plan A (playing at home against Afghanistan)," he said.
But with ANFA officially confirming Bangladesh's participation in the three-nation tournament, it seems the fate of the Bangladesh-Afghanistan match was already sealed and Bangladesh were indeed pursuing Plan B.
The bottom line is that Bangladesh will not get to host Afghanistan in March and that all the seven remaining qualifying matches of Group E, including the three featuring Bangladesh, will be played between May 31 and June 15 at a centralised venue.
While the consensus is to have these matches in either Qatar or Oman, technically there is still the opportunity to stage all the matches in Bangladesh. All five teams are eligible to bid for the hosting rights, and despite the hurdles facing Bangladesh in winning the bid -- the facilities or lack thereof in Bangladesh, the expenses involved and the consensus of majority -- the BFF should desperately seek to preserve its home advantage.
Losing the right to host the matches, especially the one against Afghanistan, could be a massive blow as far as progressing to the next stage of Asian Cup qualifiers is concerned. A win in this fixture could have drastically altered the equation in Bangladesh's favour.
All is not lost though. The players can still turn this seemingly uphill task in their favour with some rousing performances in June. But in order to achieve that there needs to be well-laid plans in place -- Plan A, Plan B, Plan C -- any number of plans needed to succeed.
It is commendable that the BFF was quick to pounce on the opportunity to have some much-needed match practice in the now-vacated March FIFA window, but plans should already be in place for May too.
Although the fixtures of the seven matches of Group E have not been released by AFC yet, it is believed that the matches will be held on June 3, 7, 11 and 15.
Bangladesh will likely play their three matches on any of those four days. If Bangladesh are to play their first match on June 3, coach Jamie Day will not have all his players at his disposal for more than 10 days because the AFC Cup South Zone group stage runs from May 14 to 20 in Maldives.
Bangladesh champions Bashundhara Kings, who boast close to half of the players of the national team, will play in the AFC Cup. Runners-up Abahani, too, will join them if they qualify through playoffs.
Taking into consideration the traveling time to and from Maldives and the quarantine protocols both in Maldives and the proposed centralised venue, majority of the players of the national team might be left with very little time for team training, let alone playing practice matches ahead of those three matches.
Hence it will be of paramount importance to first negotiate for the hosting rights, and if that effort fails, then negotiate with the scheduling of the June matches so that the team gets a considerable amount of time together to prepare for the challenge.