Despite two convincing wins on the trot, India will have to guard against complacency when they take on an unpredictable Malaysia in the quarterfinal of the Champions Challenge hockey tournament in Johannesburg on Thursday.
India topped Pool A while Malaysia, despite finishing last in Pool B, advanced as the new format allows all eight competing nations a place in the knock-out rounds.
Two big wins against hosts South Africa and Poland have boosted India’s confidence, but Malaysia will be eager to salvage pride after a lacklustre show in the three group matches.
India have enjoyed an edge over Malaysia in this year’s encounters, but last year’s Asian Games semifinal loss to the same rivals will always stay at the back of the players’ mind.
The current Indian team, including several young players graduating to the senior side, has been on a high since winning the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy in which Malaysia won the bronze medal.
India have been focusing on their attacking formations, even while trying not to show too much of their playing tactics to teams like Canada, who feature in the same Olympic Qualifying event in February.
India’s Olympic Qualifier will be in New Delhi, where Canada, France and Egypt are expected to be their main rivals for one slot in the 2012 Olympic Games at London.
Indian coach Michael Nobbs says the team’s focus has been on fine-tuning the attacking structure with focus entirely on the Qualifiers.
“Our concentration in the Champions Challenge has been on the attacking structure, and we’ll continue to work on that,” said Nobbs.
“The Champions Challenge offers a place to its winner in the Champions Trophy, but our focus has all along been the Olympic qualifier, and we’re not going to deviate from that,” he said.