Dhaka is all set to host Asia's biggest hockey tournament after a long span of 32 years as the Hero Asia Cup 2017, featuring the top eight Asian hockey powerhouses, gets underway Wednesday at Maulana Bhasani National Hockey Stadium.
The four teams from Pool A will set their feet on the blue turf on the inaugural day with Bangladesh playing against three-time champion Pakistan at 5:30pm while two-time winner India and China will face each other in the day's first match at 3pm.
Dhaka hosted the Asia Cup for the first time in 1985, which was the tournament's second edition. Since then seven more editions were held in 32 years but Bangladesh's position among the top Asian hockey nations has not changed much. Bangladesh finished sixth in 1985, ahead of China, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Iran. In 2017, Bangladesh set their target to finish among the top six. They finished seventh in the previous edition in Malaysia.
Having been placed in a tough group along with Pakistan, who won three consecutive titles from 1982 to 1989 and India, who clinched crowns in 2003 and 2007, Bangladesh captain Russel Mahmud Jimmy expressed optimism ahead of their vital clash.
"Pakistan are a strong team. We have to face them in the opening match. We know their strengths and how they play. So if we can fix our weaknesses and improve our performance from the Japan friendly, we will become a tough team to beat," said the forward.
"In reality, Pakistan are ahead of us in every aspect. But our players are ready to put up their best and mentally prepared to face any big opponent," said Bangladesh head coach Mahbub Harun.
He added, "We are hoping to produce good results at home. We will play positive hockey whatever the result turns out to be. I told my boys to try to take control of ball possession so that they can create chances."
Pakistan players are familiar with their Bangladesh counterparts having played together in the German league.
"There are many players in Bangladesh who I know very well. I myself also played for Abahani last season. We know the surroundings here. We are looking forward to show good spirit in the tournament," said Pakistan captain Mohammad Irfan.
Bangladesh defeated higher-ranked Japan in a warm-up match on Sunday. Like South Korea and China, Japan are also looking for a place in the 2018 World Cup in India. So far, three Asian countries – host India, Malaysia and Pakistan have already earned their berths. One team from the Asia Cup will qualify for the World Cup.
The eight teams have been placed in two pools and after playing three matches, the top two sides of each pool will move into another pool named the “Super Fours” and the bottom two teams will advance to another pool to determine the fifth-eighth placed sides.
In the Super Fours pool, the teams will play against each other in accordance with the single round-robin system with the top two sides proceeding to the final. South Korea, Malaysia, India and Pakistan are the favourites to make it into the Super Fours stage.
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan
Malaysia, S Korea, China, Oman
ROLL OF HONOUR
1st (1982) Pakistan
2nd (1985) Pakistan
3rd (1989) Pakistan
4th (1993) South Korea
5th (1999) South Korea
6th (2003) India
7th (2007) India
8th (2009) South Korea
9th (2013) South Korea