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A gold and an Olympic berth at stake for India
Indo-Asian News Service, PTI
Busan, February 23, 2007
First Published: 20:17 IST(11/10/2002)
Last Updated: 20:17 IST(11/10/2002)
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Defending champions India and hosts South Korea will clash Saturday in their third successive Asian Games final.

Both sides have won the title twice each and are looking for their third Asiad gold.

The match assumes a significance greater than the gold for India and Korea, as it will ensure the winner a berth in the Athens Olympics in 2004.

The clash itself will be a contrast in styles, as the Koreans play fast and furious and rely on long balls, while the Indians play the traditional and classical style with short passes.

The two sides made the final in contrasting styles.

While India played a tense and tight match against arch rivals and seven time winners Pakistan before winning 4-3, the hosts beat Malaysia 2-0 in a clinical manner, where the losing side was generally outplayed.

As far as finals go, India and South Korea have a 1-1 record, but overall the record is heavily loaded in India's favour.

India and Korea have played each other ten times since the Asian Games in Tokyo in 1958 and India has won seven times. Their only loss came in the 1994 final at Hiroshima, when Korea won the Asian Games gold for the first time.

The first of two draws came during the preliminary stage in 1986 and the second one here in Busan during the league stage.

Both teams have clashed four times this year and India have not been able to get past Koreans in any of the matches. Korea beat India at the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur and then again in the Champions Trophy in Cologne. They drew 2-2 at the four-nation tournament at Amstelveen in Holland.

However, India's display in the semi-finals, where they played smooth and flowing hockey, should have the Koreans worrying.

Indian coach Rajinder Singh exuded a lot of confidence on the eve of this important clash.

"The boys have been steadily improving with each match and played very well against Pakistan in the semi-finals. The team is highly charged and motivated after the semi-final win," he held.

Beating Korea in Korea is indeed going to be difficult. For one, the home crowd will be behind them, and there is always the feeling that when it comes to close umpiring decisions, it is always the host team that gets the benefit.

The final will provide Korea a chance to avenge their defeat Bangkok four years ago, where they lost in the sudden death.

They have a fine squad under skipper Kang Keon Wook and their two star strikers Kim Kyung Seok and Hwang Jong Hyun. The latter duo play together in the German league and supporting them will be veteran Song Seong Tae.

The Koreans, who cleverly mix Asian and European styles and add exceptional speed to their repertoire, are always a danger team. The Indians will have watch for counter attacks and not allow the Koreans the run of the play.

For India, the key man will be star striker Dhanraj Pillay, whose two goals in the semi-finals spelt disaster for Pakistan.

Pillay, who led the team when it won at Bangkok, desperately wants to add a second gold to his collection and make up for the disappointment of not having an Olympic medal.

Besides Pillay, the others to watch will be Gagan Ajit Singh, Deepak Thakur and Daljit Singh Dhillon. They have played rather well and midfielders Ignatius Tirkey and Bimal Lakra have adequately fed the front line.

Viren Rasquinha and Jugraj Singh will need to keep a watch on the Korean attacks and give the defence, manned by skipper Dilip Tirkey and Kanwalpreet Singh, solidity. Goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan could give India a lot of celebrate if he keeps up the good work he did in the semi-finals.

One big problem has been the penalty corners, where the Indians have not been able to stop the ball properly. And that could go against them.

The Koreans, on the other hand, have a decent average when it comes to converting penalty corners.

Also, in terms of strategy, India will need to do something drastic if Pillay is heavily marked. Coach Rajinder knows Pillay could be the man the Koreans will try to stop, so he could devise a method to get somebody else do the main strikes.

In the play-off for the third place, Pakistan will take on Malaysia for the bronze. For Pakistan, this is a bitter pill, as they have now failed to make the final for the third time in a row. They managed only a bronze at the last two games in Hiroshima in 1994 and at Bangkok four years later.


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