Bangladesh will begin a new chapter, as well as their “real mission”, in the Hero Asia Cup Hockey 2017 when they take on China in their first match of the 5th-8th place classification round at Maulana Bhasani National Hockey Stadium Thursday at 8pm.
Bangladesh's recent performances, results, ranking and statistics against the Chinese suggest a tough battle for the home side if they are to achieve their key goal of the tournament, which is to finish among the top six teams, like they did 32 years ago when Dhaka hosted the Asia Cup for the first time.
If Bangladesh win, they will face familiar opponent Japan, who defeated Oman 5-3 Wednesday at the same venue, once again in the 5th-6th place deciding game. If Bangladesh lose, they will take on Oman in the 7th-8th place decider.
Since the introduction of the classification round in 2003, Bangladesh never managed to finish among the top six sides in the last four editions. They finished seventh in the last three editions - 2007, 2009, 2013 - and were placed eighth in 2003. China finished above Bangladesh in each of those four editions, including a 3rd-place finish in 2009.
The last time Dhaka hosted the Asia Cup in 1985, Bangladesh and China were pitted in Group A and the two sides played out a 2-2 draw. The host eventually finished sixth, ahead of China, out of 10 countries. Bangladesh fought bravely against China in the 1999 Asia Cup where they drew 1-1 in Kuala Lumpur but fortunes then started to change for the two sides. In 2003, China outplayed Bangladesh 8-0 and followed it up by a 6-0 loss in Chennai in 2007.
Bangladesh are ranked 34th in accordance with the latest world hockey ranking while China are 18th but the former can take inspiration from their last match against China. In 2013, Bangladesh beat China 3-2 in a thrilling tie in the World Hockey League Round 2 in India after which China didn't take part in the 2013 Asia Cup. Mamunur Rahman Chayan, Mainul Islam Kaushik and Pushkor Khisa Mimo were the scorers for Bangladesh and all of them are in the current squad.
Bangladesh have failed to win any game in the tournament so far, losing all their three group stage matches of Pool A, scoring only one against Japan, while China managed only one victory (2-1 against Oman) in Pool B to finish third.
Bangladesh coach Mahbub Harun reminded everyone that their main mission begins Thursday.
"Place deciding matches were our real contention from the very beginning. Our real mission starts (Thursday). We had set our eyes there from before. Now it’s time to implement the plans and show where we stand. We have worked on China in the last few days. I believe it is possible to beat China if the boys implement the plans properly," said the experienced Harun Wednesday.
He added, "For the last three days we have observed our mistakes in the video sessions. China play a pressing game and we have also finalised what we have to do against them. The match is important for us, I have asked the boys to remain aware of the errors of the past, if we beat China, all the past failures will disappear. We will try our best to leave the pitch as the winning side."
Meanwhile in the day's other two matches of the Super 4 round, holder South Korea will take on Pakistan at 3pm while a spirited Malaysia will face a confident India in the second game at 5:30pm.
South Korea v Pakistan, 3pm
Malaysia v India, 5:30pm
Bangladesh v China, 8pm