India-Pakistan clash a battle of nervesJuly 15th, 2008 - 6:12 pm ICT by IANS
By Avishek Roy
Hyderabad, July 15 (IANS) Defending champions India can take heart from the fact that their passage to the semi-finals in the Asia Cup hockey championship has been smooth whereas three-time champions Pakistan had to struggle their way through their pool. The two teams meet at the Gachibowli Stadium here Wednesday, and both realise the importance of winning the game. Both know the strengths and weaknesses of the other as both play a similar style of hockey. If anything, India know that they are favourites playing at home and Pakistan go into the match hoping the home team will be under pressure to perform.
The Indians have improved with every game and were never in a spot of bother in the league phase, even if they took a while to get into the rhythm in their opening game against Japan.
Pakistan, on the other hand, struggled to reach the last four and made it only by winning their last league match against Bangladesh.
The Indian team would not only like to get one step closer to the title by beating Pakistan, but also give Indian hockey the much-needed fillip at a time when a debate is raging whether India needs a coach from overseas or not.
“We know that if we can win this match, we can win the trophy. An India-Pakistan match is always a pressure game. It will be a battle of nerves for both teams and the team which can keep its cool will move into the final,” said coach A.K. Bansal after the team’s training session.
Pakistan’s performance against Bangladesh was shoddy and though they won 8-2. Bangladesh gave them a tough fight and there was a stage when they led 2-1. It was only in the second half that Pakistan came out all guns blazing. Coach Jahangir Butt’s biggest problem will be to see that they get off to a rousing start.
“We cannot expect to win against India if we play as we did against Korea and Bangladesh in the first half. The slow start has been our problem area. I am particularly unhappy with their showing against Bangladesh and the boys need to pull up their socks,” Butt said after their practise session.
The match could also turn out to be a contest between two drag-flickers — India’s Diwakar Ram and Pakistan’s Kashif Ali. While Diwakar has struck six goals in the tournament, Kashif has scored three. Both the team’s will be relying heavily on them to release the pressure by striking home at the first available opportunity.
Kashif has been particularly impressive and has delivered whenever Pakistan lagged behind.
“He (Kashif) has been brilliant in the tournament and we will have to tackle him,” said Bansal.
But above all a fast-paced hockey can be expected as the forwards in both the teams looked sharp. India’s S.V. Sunil and Roshan Minz combined beautifully and that must have warmed Bansal’s heart.
“Boys are in a positive mood and their performance has gradually improved in the pool games. Our forwards didn’t do perform as well as I had expected them to. They played well in the last match and I am confident of a good showing from them in the semi-final.”
In the other semi-final, former champions South Korea would lock horns with a spirited Japan.
“We always wanted to avoid India in the semi-final because they are playing good hockey. We will fancy our chances against Japan,” said Korean coach Shin Seok Kyo.
Japan, who defeated Malaysia 3-1 in their last match, would be relying mostly on their nippy forward Ken Asakura, who struck two eye-catching goals against Malaysia.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to make our presence felt in the region by reaching the final for the first time,” Japanese coach Yamanaka Manabu said.
Tags: asia cup hockey, bangladesh, bansal, butt, clash, fillip, hockey championship, hyderabad, india pakistan match, indian hockey, indians, league phase, nerves, playing at home, rhythm, semi finals, strengths and weaknesses, time champions, training session, winning the game