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India, Pak set for combustible hockey thriller

India and Pakistan dismissed suggestions of frayed nerves as the bitter rivals geared for a combustible field hockey clash in the Asian Games today.

other Updated: Nov 19, 2010 12:32 IST

India and Pakistan dismissed suggestions of frayed nerves as the bitter rivals geared for a combustible field hockey clash in the Asian Games on Saturday.

The group B match at the Aoti hockey stadium, where the winner will book a semi-final place, gives Pakistan a chance to avenge two humiliating defeats at India's hands this year.

India won 4-1 at the World Cup in March and then dished out a 7-4 hammering at last month's Commonwealth Games, both times at home in New Delhi.

The Pakistani players, who returned home from New Delhi complaining of rude behaviour by Indian fans during the Games, hope to turn the tables on neutral territory. "If we play as well as we are capable off, we will give the Indians a good response," said Pakistan's coach Michel van den Heuvel.

"We have the team to win the tournament." The Dutchman, who took over after the former champions finished last at the World Cup, stressed a win over India was only part of the plan since the champions will get a direct entry to the London Olympics.

"Every team knows how important this tournament is," he said. "That is why we have prepared well for it." 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 captain Zeeshan Ashraf was quietly confident ahead of the key clash. "We are not nervous at all," he said. "India is a good team but we have planned well for this match. The morale is high after our two wins here."

Pakistan showcased their awesome strike power when they smashed Hong Kong 12-0 before recording a morale-boosting 8-2 win over semi-final contenders Japan on successive days.

Veteran penalty-corner exponent Sohail Abbas, recalled to the team after the Commonwealth Games, has led the charge with two goals in each match. "We have special tactics for India," said the 35-year-old, who began the tournament as the sport's leading scorer with 306 goals.

India, who also made an impressive start by beating Hong Kong 7-0 and Bangladesh 9-0, admitted Abbas's presence had lifted the Pakistanis. "They look a different side with Sohail around," said captain Rajpal Singh.

"We have also done well, but it will be a tough contest." The teams' fortunes rest on the performance of Abbas and his Indian penalty corner counterpart Sandeep Singh, who has scored six goals in two matches.

Rajpal said the wins over Pakistan this year had inspired his team, but warned against complacency. "It's a new game and both teams start with a 0-0 scoreline," the Indian captain said.

"The side which takes the pressure better will win." India's performance in the tournament could decide the fate of their Spanish coach Jose Brasa, whose two-year contract runs out after the Games.

"I want to continue with India, but my priority now is to ensure the team does well here," said Brasa.