Having trained hard for the past three months, hosts Bangladesh hope to make a good first impression in this edition of the Hero Asia Cup hockey tournament when they take on three-time World Cup and Asia Cup champions Pakistan in their campaign opener at the Maulana Bhasani Hockey Stadium today.
Bangladesh once gave Pakistan -- the then undisputed hockey kings -- a run for their money during an encounter at home 32 years ago but eventually succumbed to a narrow 1-0 defeat. That bit of history should certainly provide the boys in Red and Green some inspiration ahead of today's tie while playing on a familiar ground in front of a home crowd is sure to be a key source of motivation as well.
However in the history of the Asia Cup, with the exception of the 1985 edition held in Dhaka, Bangladesh have barely ever offered any challenge to a superior Pakistan side, who beat Bangladesh in each of the five previous meetings without conceding a single goal. This time too, Pakistan will undoubtedly be the favourites to win the fixture but despite this, the home team's management still hold the dream of an upset.
Such a dream as this could be backed by the fact that Pakistan are going through a run of poor form for the moment, having finished seventh in the 10-team Hockey World League semifinal round held in England in June. Bangladesh also have the advantage of knowing about a few of the Pakistani players' style of play as the individuals in question participated in the premier league in Dhaka last season.
Another bit of hope can be taken from the South Asian Games encounter in Dhaka in 2010 where Bangladesh fought valiantly before conceding three goals due to silly mistakes following a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of the same opposition in the 2013 Asia Cup.
On the other hand, Pakistan will simply look to put their bad patch behind them with a good start to the tournament at Bangladesh's expense.
Ever since their fifth place finish at home back in 1985, Bangladesh have never finished as high as fifth in the past seven editions.
However, national team coach Mahbub Harun is optimistic about playing a good match as his charges have overcome the fear of facing big teams.
“Playing on the home ground is something special and the boys will play for their motherland. I hope that the boys will give their maximum and play positive hockey instead thinking of conceding less number of goals,” Harun said. “Our target is to play with good ball possession and react quickly when we lose the ball.
“Still Pakistan are much ahead of us in terms of physique, skill and other areas and they are still a powerhouse in Asia, but our concentration is to display our own game. And of course, we are not under any pressure to face Pakistan.”
Bangladesh captain Rasel Mahmud Jimmy echoed his coach's sentiments and promised to deliver their best.
“Everyone assumes that Pakistan will win the match and our possibility of fighting against them depends on our on-field performance. If we all can do our best, then a competitive match can be expected because all of us are eager to play a good match against Pakistan,” said a careful Jimmy, adding that they want to make a positive start and carry it till the last game.
The match will get underway at 5:30pm after India and Japan play the tournament's curtain raiser at 3:00pm, with Star Sports Networks telecasting both matches live from the venue.