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Hockey: India, Pak set for explosive grudge match

Bitter rivals India and Pakistan are gearing for an intriguing slugfest as South Korea and China chase a hat-trick of titles in the Asian Games field hockey.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2010 10:38 IST

Bitter rivals India and Pakistan are gearing for an intriguing slugfest as South Korea and China chase a hat-trick of titles in the Asian Games field hockey.

With a ticket to the London Olympics at stake -- the men's and women's champions get a direct entry for 2012 -- the competition will be intense at the Aoti Hockey Centre from Saturday.

The remaining teams face a hazardous qualification system that saw eight-time Olympic champions India miss out on the 2008 Beijing Games for the first time.

India failed to win a medal at the Doha Asiad four years ago when they drew with South Korea 1-1 in a league match they had to win to advance to the semi-finals.

The Koreans went on to win a second successive gold medal with a 3-1 win over surprise finalists China, who knocked out Pakistan in the semi-finals.

"We don't want Doha to happen again," Indian coach Harendra Singh told AFP. "It is important to win the title here, but we will take it match by match.

"The way we have been playing over the past year, I am confident we can do it."

India, under their Spanish chief coach Jose Brasa, were the best Asian team at last month's Commonwealth Games in New Delhi where they secured second place behind world champions Australia.

Their most memorable win came in the Games semi-final against European champions England, scoring twice in the last 10 minutes to make it 3-3 before winning the penalty shoot-out.

The year was marked by two facile wins over Pakistan on home soil when they won 4-1 at the World Cup in February-March and then engineered a 7-4 drubbing at the Commonwealth Games.

Under-pressure Pakistan are desperate to make amends in Guangzhou after finishing an embarrassing last at the World Cup and lowly sixth at the Commonwealth Games.

Pakistan captain Zeeshan Ashraf said a win over India in the league match on November 20 will go a long way to revive the team's fortunes.

"This is neutral territory and it will be an even contest," said Ashraf. "We won't allow the Indians to get away as they did in New Delhi."

Pakistan, who won the last of their seven Asian Games gold medals in Beijing in 1990, have not bagged a major title since the World Cup triumph in Sydney in 1994.

Pakistan, now coached by Dutchman Michel van den Heuvel, have been drawn with India, Japan, Hong Kong and Bangladesh in Group B of the preliminary league with the top two teams advancing to the semi-finals.

The other group comprises South Korea, China, Malaysia, Oman and Singapore.

The Korean men go into the competition as the top side in the continent after adding the Asia Cup title last year to two successive Asian Games golds in 2002 and 2006.

The Koreans narrowly missed a semi-final spot at the World Cup when they were ousted by the Netherlands on goal difference despite beating the Dutch 2-1 in the last league match.

Hosts China, winners of the last two women's competition at the Asian Games, are overwhelming favourites to secure a hat-trick ahead of runners-up Japan and bronze medallists India.