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All eyes on India-Pak clash as WC returns after 28 years

india Updated: Feb 27, 2010 20:35 IST
Highlight Story

The Hockey World Cup returns to India after 28 years with an electrifying match between arch-rivals India and Pakistan after favourites Australia begin their campaign against England at the floodlit Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi on Sunday.

South Africa take on Beijing Games silver medalists Spain in the inaugural Pool B match while a sell-out crowd is expected to cheer for the hosts when they square off with four-time World Cup winners Pakistan in the last match of the day.

The organisers are facing a torrid time to give finishing touches while strict security arrangements have put several restrictions on media and entry of guests in the stadium. But the organisers will be happy about the fact that 17,000 spectators would pack the refurbished stadium on a pleasant spring night.

At least half-a-dozen sides are capable of winning the World Cup. Going by the track record of the main contenders, the tournament is unlikely to witness a major shake up at the top with defending champions Germany, Australia and the Netherlands being the top three contenders.

The likes of Spain, 2009 Euro champions England, South Korea, Pakistan and India, who won the World Cup in 1975, would be no doubt snapping at the heels of the top three, but it will take a bigger bite to topple these giants of modern hockey.

The assessment is based on the performance of the three countries in the last four years, since the last World Cup held at the Warsteiner Hockey Park, Monchengladbach, Germany, and in the subsequent major events like the Champions Trophy and the continental championships.

Holders Germany are eyeing a hat-trick of titles, but have brought a comparatively inexperienced side with just three from their successful 2006 campaign in the current squad.

Germany defeated Australia twice to become World Chmapions and the Kokabooras will be looking to avenge their defeat this time.

But first all eyes will be fixed on the high-octane clash between India and Pakistan.

A clash between sporting teams of the two countries is not just a test of skill. It is a war of nerves and it will not be any different when they fight it out under the hi-tech floodlights at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium in New Delhi on Sunday with tens of millions of their countrymen watching them in the subcontinent and around the world.

The two nations, which ruled world hockey for years, are now shadows of their past, but they still evoke a lot of tension, excitement and suspense both on the field as well as in the overflowing galleries.

The recent track record of the two teams gives Pakistan a definite edge, their staggering 6-3 victory in the Champions Challenge semi-final in Salta, Argentina, staring India in the face. The Indians know that Sunday is a different day and it is going to be a different ball game altogether playing at home, after 1982 Bombay World Cup.

Whatever the outcome of the match, the flair, artistry and that oriental touch is bound to keep the spectators on the edge of their seats.

Frankly, for both the teams, the match between them may not be their toughest in a group where they have to contend with Australia, Spain, England and South Africa.

Pakistani coach Shahid Ali sees the encounter as a battle of nerves while his Indian counterpart Jose Brasa wants his wards to treat it as another game without putting undue pressure on themselves.

"Both the teams play more or less similar style of hockey and also the formation. It all boils down to handling pressure and which ever team holds its nerve carries the day," says Shahid.

Brasa, who has seen how the Indians got uptight in the Salta match, wants to keep it simple: "Don't give too much importance to the match," he told his players.

The Indian players seem to have understood Brasa's point and do not even want to talk about the match.

"We want to treat all group matches alike as we are in a tough group. We have chalked out plans against all our opponents, studying their strengths and weaknesses and that includes Pakistan. The only difference is we are playing Pakistan first and we would like to start on a winning note," says skipper Rajpal Singh.

Penalty-corner expert and world's top scorer Sohail Abbas will be the player India would be wary of as he has the ability to change the course of the game.

India would be counting on the expertise of their three drag-flickers, Sandeep Singh, Diwakar Ram and Dhananjay Mahadik. If the forwards can fetch them the penalty-corners they will come into play.

Prabhjot Singh and Deepak Thakur have all the experience upfront with Shivendra running in at centre. Arjun Halappa and Rajpal Singh are not far behind fitting in with timely interventions.