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India's hopes rest on forward line
September 27, 2003 18:09 IST
Having brought themselves within sniffing distance of their maiden Asia Cup hockey title, India will seek to re-establish their regional supremacy when they take on arch-rivals Pakistan in the final of the tournament in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.
The final will be the ultimate in the game of one-upmanship, with the Asian giants getting a chance to meet in the final of the quadrennial event after 14 long years.
While Pakistan won the last encounter between the two in 1989, India are yet to win this prestigious title since its inception in 1982. Thus , the hunger to win their maiden Asia Cup might just give the them the edge in the final.
On paper, however, Pakistan enjoy a slight advantage, with India missing the services of penalty-corner expert Jugraj Singh and their forward line not exactly in peak form.
But to predict the outcome of any India-Pakistan match is foolhardy, as both are capable of raising their game to an altogether different level when pitted against each other.
The last time the arch-rivals played a final of a major tournament was in the SAF Games, in Chennai, in 1995, when India beat Pakistan 5-2 to win the title.
But the current Pakistan team has hardly any player from that 1995 squad to carry the bitter memories of the final, though the young side is all charged up to put it across India, whom they beat 4-2 in the league match on Wednesday.
India coach Rajinder Singh said his side is keen to avenge its Champions Trophy setback -- India lost 3-4 to Pakistan in the bronze medal play-off -- and Sunday's match offers a perfect chance.
"We have to take our chances and avail them, for it is the best opportunity to settle scores with Pakistan," he said.
Rajinder said he is satisfied with the team's semi-final victory over South Korea. Although the players conceded the lead, they regrouped in time to win the match 4-2, he added.
"In the end it is the win which is important. It does not matter how you win."
Rehan Butt, who scored match-winners for Pakistan against India during the last two editions of the Champions Trophy, said his team is buoyed by the thrill of meeting India in the final and the prospect of beating them en route to the title and a berth in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
"A win over India would cap a dream Asia Cup outing for us," he said.
"Although we beat them in the league match, the final would be totally different... it would have an entirely different tempo. The team which can control its nerves and does not get carried away will be the winner, as both sides are equally matched," he said.
Veteran penalty-corner expert Sohail Abbas will be the biggest thorn for India as he makes little mistakes with his drag flick and has been in top form in the tournament alongwith Kashif Jawaad and captain Nadeem Ahmed.
Sohail agreed the pressure will be on him to deliver.
"But that is what is all about playing at the top international level. I can be called successful only if I can withstand that pressure and live up to the expectations of my countrymen."
Similar responsibility will also have to be shouldered by Indian captain Dhanraj Pillay.
The dribble expert will have to lead from the front and motivate the younger players in the squad so that they do not lose direction.
The forwards -- Gagan Ajit Singh and Prabhjot Singh especially -- have been trying to build a rhythm and they must be looking up to the captain, who has not been all that outstanding in the tournament, for inspiration.
But one can expect Dhanraj to show the form that has made him a sort of a legend as he himself has said many times that a match against Pakistan brings out the best in him.
Young Sandeep Michael, who missed the Champions Trophy last month after he contracted jaundice, has had a dream tournament so far, scoring two beautifully executed goals for India. One can look up to the Bangalore player to do an encore tomorrow and grab a slice of history for himself.
Forward Baljit Sigh Saini epitomised the feelings of his teammates saying, "We know we can do it and we will beat Pakistan hands down," he said.