Bangladesh will go into their most high-profile game for some time looking to keep up their unbeaten record of the last five meetings against rivals Pakistan, when the sides meet today in the first-leg of the World Cup Pre-Qualifiers at the Bangabandhu National Stadium.
The World Cup in Brazil in 2014 is still about three years and a few hundred qualifying matches away but for Bangladesh that tournament could well be on another planet as the reality of their World Cup is here and now in the dull and damp Bangabandhu National Stadium today.
The record bodes well for the home side as Bangladesh have never fallen prey to Pakistan at home in the four matches that they have played since 1985 and overall they are unbeaten in their last five meetings, ever since Bangladesh won 1-0 in the Asia Cup qualifiers in 2005. The overall record though, is almost exactly even; both sides have won five of their encounters with two draws in the twelve meetings.
But records alone don’t win matches and there are plenty of headaches for the home side following only a three-day preparation camp for the match which was preceded by much drama about a change of first team coaches.
It was perhaps this reason that saw neither new coach Nikola Ilievski, nor captain-cum-goalkeeper Biplob Bhattacharjee make too many positive statements about maintaining their home record over Pakistan.
“To be honest, I only know about 20 per cent of my players’ capabilities after having trained them for two days. The only thing I could work on is the formation but unless we play competitive matches it will be difficult. I told the players to invoke the spirit of playing for their country,” said Ilievski at a pre-match briefing at the BFF House yesterday.
Skipper Biplob also looked to be suffering from a crisis in confidence and seemed confined to ifs and buts during the briefing.
“If we can put up our best performance on the pitch, we can beat Pakistan,” said Biplob, who will guide the national team for the first time after goalkeeper Aminul Haque called time on his international career a week ago.
Biplob, however, believes that the lack of preparation would not affect them much as the players, picked up for the national team, have been playing together for long time and know each other inside out.
“The Pakistani players might be physically superior to us but we are the better in terms of skill and we will try to maintain our good record at home,” said the veteran goalkeeper.
Coach Ilievski revealed his playing eleven while hinting that he might choose a formation of 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. If he goes with the latter, Zahid Hasan Emily will hoof it as the lone striker with a five man midfield. In case of a 4-4-2, Emily and Mithun Chowdhury will make up the front pairing with Raju, Mamunul, Zahid and Shakil in midfield and Nasir, Arif, Reza and Mishu making up the defence.
But Pakistan will be no pushovers and they are determined to break their jinx on the Dhaka ground despite increasing worries about the condition of the patchy pitch of the Bangabandhu National Stadium (BNS) following incessant rain in the lead up to the game.
“We are concerned about the weather and hope that it does not rain further in Dhaka as we have practiced training on the dry fields, which are different here because of rains,” Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi said.
“Your players are used to playing in such pitches and amidst rain. But I am confident we can overcome it as we had played in the rain in Malaysia.”
Lutfi also warned that his squad had a good composure with a mixture of youth and experience. Four of his players are foreign-based and eight to ten players have come from the Olympic Squad.
Captain-cum-goalkeeper Jaffar Khan echoing the sentiment of his coach said, “I have been playing for the national side for a long time and in my opinion this is the best ever squad I have seen and we will win the match.”
-With The Daily Star input