India will have to go all out for victory against archrivals Pakistan in the last group match on Friday if they nurture any hopes of making it to the final of the Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament.
Although a draw too could see them through to the final, the young India side would like to avoid such a scenario, as then their fate would rest on the outcome of other matches.
Pakistan are on top of the table with nine points followed by India with eight. Japan are third with seven points, while Korea are placed fourth with six points. Which means, going into Friday’s games, all four teams are in with a chance to enter the final. Thus, the match against Pakistan becomes a virtual semifinal for India. It would also give India an opportunity to avenge their 1-3 loss to Pakistan in this year’s Azlan Shah Cup at Ipoh, Malaysia.
India coach, Michael Nobbs, minced no words when he said that there would be huge pressure on his wards on Friday. “For me as a coach, this is the first opportunity to play against Pakistan and that is really exciting. But for the team it is a big step. There is going to be huge pressure and it would be interesting to see how the boys cope with it,” he said.
India are unbeaten in the tournament with two draws and two wins. But pressure and inexperience has already played a role for the Indians, especially against Japan and Malaysia, where the defence crumbled in the dying minutes.
Against Japan, the Indians conceded a last-minute equaliser, while against Malaysia they squandered a solitary-goal lead and then had to fight hard to secure a 2-2 draw.
Inexperience apart, Nobbs’ main concern against Pakistan would be the poor penalty-corner conversion rate. The Aussie coach would be looking up to drag-flickers, Rupinder Pal Singh and V Raghunath, to deliver. Both teams are relatively inexperienced. India are without six regular players. While Sardar Singh and Sandeep Singh have been banned for indiscipline, Tushar Khandekar, Shivendra Singh and Arjun Halappa are injured. While Pakistan don’t have —penalty-corner specialist, Sohail Abbas, and striker Rehan Butt.
India women lost to China 0-4 in the Asian Women's Champions Trophy on Thursday. The goal scorers for China were Zhao Yudiao (6th and 66th min) and Ma Yibo (21st and 65th min). India have already finished at the bottom in the group stage.