An uneven rivalry
The early exit of hosts Bangladesh may have reduced the appeal of the ongoing SAFF Suzuki Cup, but there is still something to watch out for when archrivals India and Pakistan square off in tomorrow's semifinal.
The rivalry in football between the two neighbours may not be as intense as it is in cricket, where every ball is followed by billions of people in the subcontinent and beyond.
The football rivalry, on the other hand, is far less intense as India are the dominant force in the subcontinent, having beaten Pakistan 14 times out of 23 meetings while losing only three times.
In the SAFF Championship, the two countries have faced each other five times, with India enjoying a 3-1 head-to-head lead while the other game ended in a draw. However, interestingly Pakistan beat India at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in 2003 when Bangladesh had hosted the SAFF Championship for the first time.
India, however, beat Pakistan 1-0 in their last meeting in the 2013 edition in Nepal. The two sides are set to face each other after a five-year gap following Pakistan's three-year ban from international football.
India are now 105 places ahead of Pakistan  in the latest FIFA rankings.
With the clash knocking on the door, Pakistan defender Zesh Rehman and captain Saddam Hossain felt the heat as they termed the game as a special one.
"It's always special to play against India. I believe it's the same for the Indian players when they play against Pakistan,” Zesh was quoted as saying by the official website of the All Indian Football Federation yesterday.
“The match has a lot of history. The emotion involved is huge. The rivalry pushes everyone to give that extra bit,” the former Fulham defender added.
The last time the two teams met in an official encounter in 2013 in Kathmandu, Saddam was unstoppable down the right and hit the post twice. Apart from that instance, he was also part of an unofficial under-23 friendly series in Bengaluru the following year, where he was adjudged the 'Most Valuable Player' of the series.
“We just can't wait to play against India. We have every ounce of respect for our opponents but that won't deter us from playing our natural game. We have shown our worth and I believe it's going to be a heck of a contest and no one will prefer to give it a miss,” Hossain was quoted as saying.
India coach Stephen Constantine is, however, taking the match as another game.
"We are aware of the contest. But that is nothing different. It's just another match. We can't let the occasion get over us and hopefully we will beat them to advance to the final,” said Constantine.
Bangladesh has hosted international events in various sports where India and Pakistan faced off, notably during the 2014 Asia Cup cricket and the 2017 Asia Cup hockey. The country is now set to host another India-Pakistan battle, albeit on the football ground.