It was primed to be a memorable night but was two minutes from ending miserably till Adil Khan headed home Brandon Fernandes' corner-kick for a face-saver in Tuesday's group E qualifier for the 2022 World Cup and the 2023 Asian Cup.
Saad Uddin's 42nd minute goal, also off a header, following a Gurpreet Singh Sandhu clanger, had sucker-punched India and it looked like Bangladesh would get their first win against India since the 2003 SAFF Cup in Dhaka. The 1-1 result means after three games India move to two points while Bangladesh get one after losses against Afghanistan and Qatar.
The teams also shared a goalline save each; Manvir Singh's header was cleared by Mohammad Ibrahim in the 60th minute and Khan denied Mohammad Nabib Ziban in the 73rd after Sandhu was lobbed over. But for all of India's domination, Bangladesh left feeling unlucky because Mohammad Ibrahim's drive from the left hit the framework in the 54th. Four minutes earlier, Sandhu ensured Bangladesh don't run away with the game by getting big on Mohammad Ziban.
"It is disappointing to concede this late but this performance is up there with what India achieved against Qatar," said Bangladesh coach Jamie Day.
Led by central defender Mohammed Yeasin Khan, who kept putting his body on the line, Bangladesh frustrated India by often defending with nine men. Their full backs denied India's wide players Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh space and because Fernandes couldn't start due to an injury he picked up at the training camp, India failed to plough down the middle.
India also could not transition swiftly in the first half. Sunil Chhetri did shoot once on a half-turn but before that Rahul Bheke was lucky he didn't concede a penalty when Mohammed Ibrahim forced his way down the left. Missing Sandesh Jhingan meant India coach Igor Stimac got Anas Edathodika to come out of international retirement after January 19 when he pulled up injured against Bahrain.
Edathodika didn't settle into his central defensive role as well as he would have liked to. "I opted for his experience," said Stimac.
Seven minutes after Singh flicked a header that goalkeeper Ashraful Rana—"my Man-of-the-Match, said Stimac— Uddin struck from a Jamal Bhuyan free-kick that looked innocuous till Sandhu, so sure under the bar against Qatar last month, flapped in the air.
"It was a silly goal and after that we can't be expected to win, but such is the life of a goalkeeper," said Stimac. With Fernandes coming on, India switching to a three-man defence and Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan falling back to find space, India increased the pressure as Bangladesh tried to run down the clock.
"Our decision making was poor in some cases and we could have been more aggressive on crosses, but we showed we can play attacking football, different from what we did in the earlier games. There are many more points on the table and we will keep fighting," said Stimac.
Chhetri said: "One of those games where we could not take our chances. I don't want to get into the part about us conceding because you concede from set-pieces sometimes. But we got so many chances, which we should have buried. The good thing is boys gave everything but it was not enough. For the matches in November we want to come back as fresh as possible and fight in every match."
Uddin's goal silenced a packed 61,486 crowd that had come mostly in mini-vans, blaring 'Ma Tuje Salaam' and shouting Sholay's famous line, 'chal dhanno' as the traffic lights turned from amber to green on roads leading to the Salt Lake stadium. It would have been a scene straight out a Kolkata derby except this was a joust between neighbouring countries that share more than national anthems.
The stadium shook when the last bars of "Jana, Gana, Mana' was played out, but on a full moon night, India paid for not being sharp in front of goal.