Football: With just a day before Bhutan takes on Bangladesh in the second leg of the AFC Cup playoff qualifiers, the visiting team received news of the untimely demise of one of the family members of a player.

One of the key players on the team, MD Emon Mahmud, will be missing the match today. Head coach of the Bangladeshi team, Tom Saintfiet, said that the news came as a “shock”.

“It is a great loss not only to Emon but also to the whole team,” said Saintfiet. With their star midfielder gone, the coach is concerned with their performance at the Changlimithang stadium.

Emon is one of the best central midfielders of the team said Saintfiet. “He was our main player in the centre with skill and intellect to play in crucial games. He was the perfect player for this match.”

However, Saintfiet is optimistic. “Weather, altitude and the artificial turf could be a deterring factor for us, but we have to play smart and adapt as the game goes on.”

Bhutan has made tremendous progress in the last few years, he said.  “It will be a difficult task to defeat Bhutan on their home ground but we have to create chances and capitalise on it. Scientifically, we need seven to eight days to adapt to new weather conditions. We just had three days.”

Bhutan’s new head coach, Torsten Spittler, said that his side will give 100 percent.

“We have the home ground and altitude advantage, but there are always possibilities that our opponents will have strategies to work against these advantages,” said the German. “We have our own strategies and are prepared for all possible contingencies so that we are not surprised during the game.”

One of Spittler’s strategies is to play longer game without conceding any goal. “We did great in the first 30 minutes at Dhaka. The longer the match, we have the advantage because of the altitude. We need to score and at the same time avoid conceding goals.”

A goalless draw will take the match to extra time and into penalty shots if the score line remains same. A 1-1 draw will see the visiting team advance to the next round. It is a must-win game for Bhutan.

Skipper Karma Shedrup Tshering said that the team is prepared and a systematic attack and defence will see the team through to the next round. “We are hoping for a perfect result this time.”

The match will begin at 6pm at the Changlimithang Stadium today.

Younten Tshedup