- Bangladesh begin next stage of World Cup qualifying in Asia
- Coach Jamie Day hoping his young team open brightly away to Afghanistan
- Englishman aiming to use the qualifiers to build for the future
Having progressed through the preliminary stage, Bangladesh begin their campaign in Asia's second qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ in Afghanistan next Tuesday. And they are aiming to get off to a good start.
To most observers, the South Asian side start as underdogs in a group which also features the likes of India, Oman and reigning Asian champions Qatar. Ranked at 182 in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the Bengal Tigers are the section's lowest-ranked side, languishing 120 places below top seeds Qatar, with 33 spots separating them from their closest rivals, Afghanistan.
With the Qataris undisputed favourites to win the group, Bangladesh's hopes look to lie in competing against the section’s other sides for the runners-up spot. And while this makes for a daunting task, head coach Jamie Day believes that his team are capable of springing a shock or two.
"We understand that all four of our opponents are higher in the FIFA World Rankings than us and we have to be realistic," the 39-year-old Englishman told FIFA.com. "This campaign is going to be tough for us, but we will make the best of this experience and hopefully we can get a few surprise results along the way."
While the team’s fans are hoping for a bright start at least, Day has warned his players not to take their Afghan rivals lightly. "It will be a tough challenge for us, especially considering we play away," said the former Arsenal midfielder. "They are a strong side with some very good players who play their club football in Europe. We will need to be at our best if we are to get any points."
Looking to the future
Having spent a decade managing clubs in England’s lower leagues, Day was given a dual job in Bangladesh last year when he took charge of the national U-23 side as well as the senior team. His first success in the job came in last October's Asian Games, when he guided the junior side to a surprise last-eight finish, notably beating Qatar 1-0 in the process.
Under Day, these youngsters continued to make progress, with several breaking into the senior side. Indeed, the current squad features as many as 16 U-23 players - making Bangladesh one of the youngest teams on the continental scene.
“We have a good mix of young talents developing in the national team," Day continued, revealing his long-term vision for Bangladesh team. "The older players help them with their experience and the balance between old and new has helped the transition go very smoothly so far."
Should Bangladesh register a positive result against Afghanistan, it will provide the team with a timely boost heading to the next outing, when they host the heavily-fancied Qataris. And while victory against the World Cup hosts is likely to prove beyond their grasp, Day sees fixtures like this one as a stepping stone towards the future.
"It's great for our players to compete [against the top teams in Asia]. I hope that they will play under no pressure, enjoy the experience and play to the best of their ability,” he said.
"It’s important that we build game after game while the young players gain precious international experience. Hopefully these experiences will help them become better players, so they can form the core of the national team for years to come.”