It will be the 149th meeting between the two giants of hockey since 1956, but Pakistan have the edge if records are anything to go by – they have 74 wins compared to India’s 49. —File photo by AFP
IPOH: Pakistan and India are set to meet in a match that could decide their fate for the semi-final line up of the Azlan Shah Cup but officials of both teams believe it is ‘just another game.’
Both teams go into their crucial fifth match of the tournament needing at least a draw to stay in contention for the semi-final line up. However, the arch-rivals are looking to play down the pre-match hype in a bid to take pressure off their players.
Pakistan manager Khwaja Junaid said matches between the two teams are always tense, but any ill-feelings were irrelevant.
“We have to look at the hockey side and play the game to the best of our ability. It is God’s will if we win,” he said.
“But then again, the points are very crucial for us as well as them.
Pakistan, who started the tournament impressively with similar (4-2) wins against New Zealand and South Korea, were brought down by Great Britain in a 3-2 loss before being thrashed by Australia 5-1.
“Two defeats doesn’t mean end of the tournament, we have a lot to play for,” Junaid said.
Several changes were made to the Pakistan squad that won gold at last November’s Asian Games in Guangzhou but strike-force, including veterans Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi, remained the same
“My young players are doing well and improving with each match. The Indians too have a young side with a lot of players playing at this level for the first time.”
“As a group, we have missed a lot of chances. We have been conceding a lot of soft goals and that’s something we must not repeat in the next game. We want to win tomorrow’s match and get our campaign back on track,” he added.
Meanwhile, India’s coach insisted that there was “no room for emotions” on the eve of the highly anticipated grudge match.
“Such sentiments can cost us the match as you will not be playing for the points. There is no doubt that this will be yet another good match-up, but we aim to take it as just another game,” Indian coach Harinder Singh said.
Going into Wednesday’s clash, India – the reigning joint champions – are third in the standings with seven points with two matches to go. Old foes Pakistan are one place and one point behind from the same number of games.
“We’ve not allowed Commonwealth Games final and Asian Games semifinals to play on our minds. Similarly, we won’t be looking back at last year’s matches against Pakistan,” said Harendra.
“What happened in last year’s matches is now history, just as earlier matches in this tournament. Boys are eager to perform well.” Harendra, who was brought back as India’s coach after resigning in wake of loss to Malaysia in Asian Games semifinal where he was deputy to Spaniard Jose Brasa, said young team had justified his faith in them.
“I have confidence in these boys, they have been wonderful,” he said.
India will also be looking to avoid jittery situation of second half against Malaysia, when they allowed hosts to dictate the pace of game and lay seize on Indian goal for first 15 minutes in second session. Indian defence managed to hold its ground, as it had done in match against Australia, where India’s ability to absorb pressure secured them a draw.
Matches between the neighbours in any sport are always fierce, but the showdown in Ipoh, in northern Malaysia, has taken on extra significance as both sides chase a place in the next round.
It will be the 149th meeting between the two giants of hockey since 1956, but Pakistan have the edge if records are anything to go by – they have 74 wins compared to India’s 49. A total of 25 matches ended in draws.
But the form is with India, who finished joint winners with South Korea last year after the final was washed-out and were the outright champions in 2009.
India lost to Korea 3-2 in their opening match, but then beat Great Britain 3-1, drew with Australia and hammered Malaysia 5-2.
Also Wednesday, New Zealand take on Malaysia and Australia face Korea.
Great Britain top the standings ahead of Australia in the seven-team competition.