If there were to be an accolade for 'Best Mover' of the FIFA-Coca-Cola World Ranking for the past two months, then Bangladesh must be an extremely strong candidate. The south Asia nation has picked up four wins and two draws in their last seven games to move them up 27 places in the past eight weeks.
In November 2005, Bangladesh were in 170th position - their lowest position ever since the Ranking began. However, their excellent displays and results in the 2005 South Asia Football Federation (SAFF) Championship and the preliminary qualifying stage for the AFC Asian Cup finals have seen them move up to 143rd.
Bangladesh went into the SAFF Championship in Pakistan as reigning champions. They began brightly with a convincing 3-0 defeat of Bhutan in the opening game and then enjoyed a 2-0 win over Nepal with Mohammad Rokonuzzaman Kanchan scoring both goals. Those victories were enough to see Bangladesh reach the semi-finals. However, their 1-1 draw with India in their final group game was enough to secure top spot in their section.
In the semi-final Diego Cruciani's charges found themselves facing the hosts. In a defensive game full of energy and enthusiasm, Bangladesh emerged victorious with Mohammed Sujan's penalty on the stroke of half-time proving to be the difference between the two sides. That result set-up a re-match with India in the final, which they lost 2-0.
Despite missing out on the title they won two years ago, football fans in Bangladesh were largely happy with the improvements their team showed during the tournament. In the Asian Cup preliminary qualifying round they further emphasised their progress by defeating Pakistan 1-0 over two legs to book a place in the next stage where they will meet Hong Kong, Qatar and Uzbekistan.
2003 - a vintage year for Bangladeshi football
For everyone connected with football in Bangladesh, the memories of their achievements in the 2003 SAFF Championship are still as sweet as ever.
When the Bangladesh team lined up against the Maldives in the final in front of over 50,000 passionate supporters in the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka, the atmosphere was electric. Sujan's decisive spot-kick in the 5-3 penalty shoot-out win over island rivals sparked wonderful celebrations for a nation, who despite a century-long involvement in the sport, had only boasted one other success.
The timely triumph provided a massive boost to football in the country and acted as catalyst to rapid development. The Bangladesh Football Association has been working hand in hand with AFC's Vision Asia programme to restructure its domestic league as well as initiating more youth schemes.
Teaching from beyond the border
Nowadays the fashion in Asian countries is to hire foreign coaches and Bangladesh is no exception to the rule. Two men in particular have contributed considerably; these are former coach George Kottan from Austria who played a big part in laying the physical foundations for the former national team and current boss Cruciani from Argentina who is hoping to improve the team technically.
Kottan organized the team superbly and was the driving force behind the 2003 SAFF Championship success. Prior to his appointment, the Bangladesh side had been criticized for their inability to run for the whole 90 minutes. However, the final against the Maldives, which was played at a frenetic pace went to extra-time, with Kottan's side showing no signs of fatigue.
Cruciani's biggest task is to teach the team, in his own words, how to play football on the ground. "I have watched many league and cup games in Bangladesh," he commented, "and I have noticed that almost every team play with a long-ball system." Happily for the Argentine, their improvement in the Ranking shows that significant progress is being made.