Girls show grit in narrow defeat

Bangladesh's AFC U-16 Women's Championship encounter against Australia may have been a dead rubber but the contest between the two proved quite lively. Australia won the match 3-2. Photo: AFC

 

It started disappointingly for Bangladesh when they suffered a 9-0 defeat against North Korea in their opening fixture of the AFC U-16 Women's Championship in Chonburi, Thailand last week. But on Sunday they signed off with their heads held high despite the fact that they lost to Australia 3-2 in what was their last group league game.

The game at the Institute of Physical Education Stadium itself epitomized the struggle of some nondescript girls from remote villages, from where they started kicking a football barely six years ago. Playing against a team like Australia, who are ranked 100 places above, is itself an achievement. When our men's team hosted the Socceroos for the first the time in their home-leg World Cup qualifier last year, they lost the game 5-0 without a fight.

But these girls did not lose without a fight. They conceded a goal as early as the ninth minute with Australia's Laura Emily finding the net for the first time for her country in this championship. The Bangladesh girls suffered another blow when they were reduced to 10-women after captain Krishna Rani got the marching order in the 32nd minute.

It could have killed the game as a contest had that been any other Bangladesh football lineup against any decent team in the world. But these girls have grown up facing adversities in every conceivable way possible. They made a spectacular turnaround against let us say the future Matildas – the senior Australian women's team that beat their Brazilian counterparts 2-1 only a couple of days ago.

A ten-women Bangladesh restored parity in the 45th minute when Shopna was brought down by Cecillija Matic in the forbidden zone. Shamsunnahar converted from the spot as the Bangladesh girls headed for a satisfying lemon break.  They returned to stun their fancied opponent with Monika Chakma presenting Bangladesh a 2-1 lead in the 51st minute, slotting home a rebounder from the top of the box. That goal marked an amazing turnaround, which is something beyond anybody's imagination.

They not only held their fort gallantly but showed the amazing ability of how to do battle in a game with the disadvantage of being one player short.

Australia eventually needed two late goals including a magnificent curling corner from Kyra Cooney-Cross, which sailed into the far corner of the net in the 78th minute, to save their blushes against a spirited Bangladesh team. Substitute Sofia Sakalish scored the winner in the 83rd minute, slotting home from a goal-mouth scramble.

The match turned into a dead rubber after both side's defeat against North Korea and Japan. Interestingly, both Bangladesh and Australia ended their scoring duck in the match after conceding 12 each in their previous games.

Australia might have won the game by the skin of their teeth, but it was certainly the Bangladesh girls who won hearts.

When Bangladesh qualified for the finals, they had been placed in a group that can be best described as good as world beaters in age-group level competitions. They suffered a stage-fright in their opening game against North Korea, but showed remarkable tenacity against Japan, who won 3-0. And after yesterday's 3-2 defeat against Australia they proved a point beyond debate that they have achieved more than what was expected in their first-ever top-flight venture. 

It was not a fairly-tale ending by any means for coach Golam Rabbani Choton's girls, but it gave hope, a hope of something extraordinary if these girls play together for another four to five years.

Bayern out to silence critics as Bundesliga returns

Bayern Munich's German striker Thomas Mueller reacts during the Champions League group B match between Bayern Munich and RSC Anderlecht in Munich. Photo: AFP

 

Carlo Ancelotti's Bayern Munich will be looking to silence their critics with victory over Mainz in the Bundesliga this Saturday.

A 3-0 victory over Anderlecht in the Champions League on Tuesday was overshadowed by reports of internal disharmony in Munich. The German media have reported growing discord between coach Ancelotti and leading players such as Thomas Mueller, Franck Ribery and Robert Lewandowski.

Borussia Dortmund host Cologne on Sunday, as they look to bounce back from defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in midweek.

Here are five things to look out for in the Bundesliga this weekend:

Boateng returns for Bayern

 

Jerome Boateng looks set to make his Bundesliga return against Mainz, having been sidelined through injury since May 20.

"We need to play more as a team, with more concentration," said the defender amid reports of dressing room disharmony this week.

Mueller may also return to the starting line-up, as Ancelotti looks to rotate his squad after Tuesday's Champions League fixture.

Mainz coach Sandro Schwarz is expected to pick the same team which cantered to a 3-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen last weekend.

Aubameyang's Cologne curse

Dortmund will be looking to return to their free-scoring ways against Cologne after a disappointing 0-0 draw in Freiburg last weekend.

Star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be expected to deliver, though his record against Sunday's opponents is hardly encouraging. Cologne remain the only Bundesliga team against whom Aubameyang has never scored.

After both Marcel Schmelzer and Marc Bartra picked up injuries against Freiburg, Omer Toprak and Jeremy Toljan are expected to start in defence.

Cologne coach Peter Stoeger may well rest some key players after their Europa League opener against Arsenal on Thursday.

Leipzig without Keita and Forsberg

Champions League goalscorer Emil Forsberg is expected to be rested for RB Leipzig's clash with Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Forsberg scored Leipzig's first ever Champions League goal in their 1-1 draw with Monaco on Wednesday.

Attention now turns to Saturday's game, as Leipzig look to show they can deal with a busy schedule.

They are still without midfield star Naby Keita, who was sidelined with a groin injury against Monaco.

Laszlo Benes is the latest player on a growing injury list for Gladbach. The midfielder was forced to undergo surgery after breaking his foot in a midweek friendly.

Midfield all-rounder Jonas Hofmann looks set to return as Gladbach go after their first win since the opening weekend.

Hanover eye top spot

Hanover have been one of the season's early surprises, and could go top of the Bundesliga with a win over Hamburg on Friday.

The promoted side are unbeaten since Andre Breitenreiter took over in April, and have not conceded a single goal at home under the new coach.

"Hanover are an opponent who are full confidence," said Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt. "I'm expecting an open game; anything can happen."

Hamburg are still without key forwards Nicolai Mueller and Filip Kostic. If they too fail to score at the HDI-Arena, then Hanover may top the Bundesliga for the first time in 48 years.

Hertha counting on Leckie

Both Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin will be fresh from Europa League action when they meet on Sunday.

Hoffenheim remain unbeaten in second, having shown their quality with a 2-0 win over Bayern last Saturday.

Hertha's hopes of taking something back to Berlin lie with Mathew Leckie, who has three goals in three league games for his new club.

The Australian's form is all the more important given that neither Vedad Ibisevic nor Salomon Kalou have found the net this season.

Fixtures (all times 1330 GMT unless stated)

Friday

Hanover v Hamburg (1830)

Saturday

Bayern Munich v Mainz, Werder Bremen v Schalke, Eintracht Frankfurt v Augsburg, VfB Stuttgart v Wolfsburg, RB Leipzig v Borussia Moenchengladbach (1630)

Sunday

Hoffenheim v Hertha Berlin (1130), Bayer Leverkusen v Freiburg, Borussia Dortmund v Cologne (1600)

Messi double inspires Barcelona to Juventus revenge

Barcelona's talisman Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their third goal during the UEFA Champions League against Juventus at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 12. Photo: AFP

 

Barcelona defied an outgoing off-field crisis as another Lionel Messi-inspired display exacted revenge on Juventus to open their Champions League campaign with a resounding 3-0 win on Tuesday.

Messi was involved in all three goals as he beat Gianluigi Buffon for the first time in his career to open the floodgates just before half-time.

Ivan Rakitic added a second after Messi's run and cross opened up the Juventus defence before the Argentine rounded off the scoring by drilling home his second of the evening 19 minutes from time.

Victory puts Barca on top of Group D alongside Sporting Lisbon, who were 3-2 winners at Olympiakos.

Barca's start to the season has been dominated by calls for president Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign following Neymar's world record move to Paris Saint-Germain and the Catalan giants' bungled moves to replace the Brazilian.

However, Ousmane Dembele impressed on his full debut following a 105 million-euro ($126 million) move from Borussia Dortmund, as Barca proved as long as they have Messi there is life after Neymar.

"We know that when he gets the ball anything can happen," said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde after his first Champions League game in charge.

"I have suffered many times playing against Messi and now I have the luck to have him on my side."

Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri, though, was less impressed by Messi as he blamed his side's defending for allowing the five-time World Player of the Year too much space to exploit.

"We gave him too much space, we almost made it easy for him," said Allegri.

"We have to understand that when we play in the Champions League against teams of this level, we have to be aware every minute of the game.

"Against a different team without Messi, we wouldn't have conceded those goals."

Upheaval

Juventus have also suffered upheaval since the sides last met in last season's quarter-finals as Allegri made six changes from their trip to the Camp Nou just five months ago when a 0-0 draw saw the visitors progress 3-0 on aggregate.

Despite Dembele's early promise, Barca struggled to create early on.

Their best effort before opening the scoring came when a Messi free-kick rebounded back into Luis Suarez's path and his fierce effort was turned over by Buffon.

Dembele was involved in the move as Messi broke his personal duck against Buffon in the final minute of the first half.

Messi picked up the Frenchman's pass before exchanging a one-two with Suarez and firing with unerring accuracy just inside the far post.

Juventus had a big chance to respond right at the start of the second half, but Paulo Dybala couldn't match his international teammate's finish and he lifted his shot over the bar.

Messi was inches away from his second as another rasping left-foot drive came back off the inside of the post, rebounded off the back of Buffon's head and dropped just wide.

Yet, Messi was also fortunate to escape his first ever red card at club level moments later as he was booked by Slovenian referee Tomaz Klancnik for his attempts to get a Juventus player cautioned.

Aided by his teammates, though, Messi continued his protests and could easily have been shown a second yellow by a more stringent official.

His clash with the referee only seemed to inspire Messi to greater heights as he drove through the Juventus defence once more and, when his low cross was only partially cleared by Stefano Sturaro, Rakitic slotted home the rebound.

Buffon momentarily denied Messi his double with a fine save from a free-kick.

However, the veteran goalkeeper was helpless once more 21 minutes from time when Messi cut inside onto his left foot and buried the ball into the bottom corner for his eighth goal of the season already.

'Will miss Shakib badly'

Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan. Photo: Firoz Ahmed

 

This will be the first time that Shakib Al Hasan will not be a part of the Test team since the 2014 series in West Indies when he was serving a six-month suspension because of disciplinary issues.

Interestingly, despite being in superb form, scoring 665 runs and picking up 29 wickets in his last seven Tests, the all-rounder has asked for a break of six months from Test cricket, which the BCB partially granted by excusing him from the two-Test series in South Africa.

The 30-year-old has been instrumental in Bangladesh's recent longer-version successes, be it the drawn series against England last year, his century in the victory in the 100th Test in Sri Lanka and his stellar all-round show in the recent maiden Test win over Australia.

According to Mushfiqur Rahim it is not good news for him as captain of the Test side and informed that the premier all-rounder's absence in the team will certainly create a gap in all three departments on their upcoming, challenging tour of South Africa.

“Obviously I am not happy, being the captain of the side,” Mushfiqur told The Daily Star yesterday. “But as he asked for a break to have some rest from his workload, that's his personal decision which I also respect. At the same time, if he was injured we would have had to play without him, so that's part of life,” he added.

Shakib, who has played 51 Tests, scored 3,594 runs and picked up 188 wickets was instrumental both with bat and ball when Bangladesh last toured South Africa for a two-match Test series back in 2008 when he picked up 11 wickets and scored 118 runs.

However, Mushfiqur thought that the return of Mahmudullah Riyad, who was recalled to the Test side after being left out of the 100th Test in Sri Lanka, will certainly add some experience to the Bangladesh line-up.

“The inclusion of Riyad Bhai will add some experience to our side as he is a very seasoned campaigner for us. But still I would say Shakib is Shakib, and we are going to miss him badly,” Mushfiqur said.

The Tigers Test skipper also informed that the South Africa tour will be a challenging one for Bangladesh, and opined that the players will have to show their character in the testing conditions.

Bangladesh U-16s not afraid

The Bangladesh team go through a practice session yesterday at the Chonburi Stadium where they will begin their AFC U-16 Women's Championship campaign against defending champions North Korea today. PHOTO: BFF

 

It was only thirteen years ago that a section of fundamentalist zealots under the banner of Islamic Oikya Andalan threatened to spoil the first-ever women's football competition in Dhaka. Though that competition was completed successfully, under the protection of police, women's football hardly took place in the years that followed. Then during the first regime of Kazi Salahuddin in 2010, women's football started to gain pace after being introduced at club level. Now it is being held regularly at the national level with participation of district teams, and the pace of progress has been furthered with the introduction of the Bangamata Primary School Gold Cup in 2011.

The current squad of the U-16 women's team comprises of some talented girls from Bangamata Gold Cup, and they have already achieved something that their predecessors never achieved: clinching back-to-back AFC U-14 Girls' Regional Championship titles and qualifying for the final round of the AFC U-16 Women's Championship, which also serves as the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.

Having stunned illustrious opponents like Chinese Taipei and Iran in the qualifying stage to emerge group champions in September last year, the girls in red and green have gone through rigorous training for the last one year. The stage is now set for them to display their potential and their first test is against none other than defending champions North Korea, one of the powerhouses in women's football with FIFA U-17 and FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup titles to their name.

Considering the strength of today's opponents, the fear of being thrashed may be lingering in the minds of the Bangladesh players, but they are nevertheless upbeat about their prospects after having played a lot of practice matches (21 matches in Japan, South Korea, China and Singapore).

“They [North Korea] are also girls like us and there is nothing to be afraid of as we have already got rid of the fear after playing against teams from Japan, Korea and China,” said a determined captain Krishna Rani Sarker in Chonburi, Thailand yesterday morning.

The girls were in cheerful mood during a light training session in the afternoon as they built up to the most important match of their lives so far.

Midfielder Misrat Jahan Mousumi echoed the sentiments of her skipper as she said they are not afraid of the opposition.

“We got scared when we learnt that we would play against the world's top teams, but now we don't have any fear of them. We lost to South Korea U-16 team 6-0 in a practice match but we all tried our best to fight till the last minute because we felt that we were not losing; we were just playing against them. We know their strength and got prepared that way,” said Mousumi, who played in the holding midfield position.

The match between Bangladesh and North Korea will kick off at the Chonburi Stadium at 4:00pm (BST) while three-time champions Japan will face Australia at IPE Stadium at 5:00pm (BST).

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