(17 Nov, 2016): Bangladesh will be seeking a third consecutive title when the 5th Men’s Asian Hockey Federation Cup (AHF Cup) gets underway at the King’s Park Hockey Stadium from Dec 19-27 in Hong Kong.
Bangladesh won the coveted AHF Cup in 2008 (Singapore) and 2012 (Thailand) since the tournament was introduced in 1997. And a third straight title would give Bangladesh direct entry into next year’s Asia Cup.
The two-time champions are drawn in Pool A with hosts Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and Macau while Pool B has Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Uzbekistan. Bangladesh will begin their campaign against hosts Hong Kong this Saturday, Chinese Taipei on Nov 21 and Macau two days later.
Newly-appointed Bangladesh head coach, Oliver Kurtz, said: “Of course we should win the title anyway. Otherwise, I am not a good coach.”
The German is parading a squad of seniors and several juniors whom he believes are capable of delivering the AHF Cup for the third consecutive time. As part of their preparation, the team played a eight matches in Poland and Austria.
The team will be led by forward Russell Mahmud Jimmy while Kurtz has also included defender Mamunur Rahman Chayan and midfielder Kamruzzaman Rana, who excelled in the European tour. Penalty corner specialist Mamunur and Kamruzzaman were earlier dropped from the national squad before the South Asian Games in January this year due to poor form.
‘We must learn the European tactics if we are to improve,” said Kurtz. “The Asian players, not only Bangladesh, are talented with ball and skill but they must have the tactical knowledge. They have to establish control like European style. That is why we preferred to go to Europe for practice matches rather than play against Asian teams in this region.”
Team captain Jimmy, observed: “We have a huge strength even on the bench which I think will help us to fulfil our target of winning the title again. As captain I want to lead the team to become champions once again.”
The AHF provides valuable opportunities for the second tier Asian teams to participate in international tournaments apart from the Asian Games and Asia Cup.
After Singapore and Bangkok hosted the AHF Cup in 2008 and 2012, the tournament returns to Hong Kong after a lapse of 14 years. Hong Kong emerged champions as host in 2002.
Hong Kong team manager, Eddie Leung, wants his players to make great use of home ground advantage to strive for good results.
“When we played against Kazakhstan last March in the FIH World League 2016 Round 1, we were caught up several times but we managed to beat them 4-3 at the end. This unforgettable experience has taught us to fight until the last second of every match,” said Leung.
Team captain Siu Chun Ming, who has been representing the national team four years back, is a potent force with team lots of experience having competed in the FIH World League and Asian Challenge Cup.
“I have always reminded the players to stay calm and be tough when we play against stronger opponents. We look forward to the Hong Kong Hockey community’s support during this tournament.
Chief coach Mark Kake says Hong Kong will go all out for their opening encounter against Bangladesh as they have set a target of a top-three ffor that match and all our players are aiming among the toe AHF Cup.
“We look forward to seeing all hockey fans at King’s Park Hockey Ground to lend supports to our Hong Kong team in the tournament,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s national team left on Thursday for Hong Kong led by former Christ Church College hockey player Nalantha de Silva, Sandaruwan Priyalanka, veteran player Mohammed Mulafer and former captain Thusith Ratnasiri.
Saturday (19 Nov) – Group A: Chinese Taipei v Macau; Bangladesh v Hong Kong.
Sunday (20 Nov) – Group B: Singapore v Thailand; Sri Lanka v Uzbekistan.