Bangladesh will begin their bid to play in back-to-back finals of the SAFF Women's Championship when they take on Bhutan in a Group A encounter at the Sahid Rangashala in Biratnagar, Nepal today.
The match will get underway at 3:15pm (BST).
An outright win would place Bangladesh in the last four with a match in hand following Bhutan's defeat at the hand of hosts Nepal in the tournament opener. The women in red and green looked quite serious on the ground during an hour-long training session at the match venue yesterday. Interestingly, the serious mood reflected the tournament's festivities or lack thereof seeing as the banners, festoons and posters were hardly noticeable on the dust covered Biratnagar, Nepal's most densely populated area, due to construction works.
A slip against Bhutan, a team Bangladesh have never lost to at any level, may even jeopardise Bangladesh's progress to the semifinals, as was the case during the second edition of the championship in Colombo, 2012.
Although a 1-0 win would suffice to see off Bhutan, Bangladesh will keep the goal-difference in mind. Nepal beat Bhutan 3-0 and so a win by a greater margin would put Bangladesh ahead when they face the hosts in the group deciding match on March 16 in which case, a draw would see them through as group champions.
Even though Bangladesh recorded a 9-0 win over Bhutan during the inaugural edition in 2010 in Cox's Bazar before registering a 1-0 win in the next edition in Colombo, Bhutan have improved significantly with their academy-grown footballers.
With that in mind, Bangladesh Football Federation technical director Paul Smalley, also the technical adviser to women's football teams, had a busy time yesterday, showing the women in red and green how they should defend, attack, take free-kicks, throw-ins and corners as well as how to take their positions.
The team management will definitely be banking on strike pair Sabina Khatun and Sirat Jahan Swapna since forward Krishna Rani will miss the game due to a knee injury sustained during a training session a few days ago. Midfielder Maria Manda and Monica Chakma will also be an added advantage for Bangladesh as the two key midfielders have experience of scoring from distance.
Sabina and Swapna together scored 11 of the 19 goals Bangladesh scored in the four matches they played in the last edition in India. Sabina, considered the spearhead of Bangladesh's attack, played in all four previous editions of the championship and took part in domestic leagues of India and Maldives.
“Now the situation is that we can ensure our semifinal berth by beating Bhutan and we are really mentally prepared to win the match at any cost,” Sabina said. “First we want to win the match and then think of goal difference.”