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India eyeing maiden Jr Asia Cup crown
April 28, 2004 17:54 IST
After achieving their main objective -- a berth in the junior World Cup, the Indians are geared up to clinch their maiden Asia Cup hockey title when they meet arch-rivals Pakistan in the final of the tournament in Karachi on Thursday.
"The first task was to qualify for the next year's junior World Cup in Holland and since it is achieved, the next aim is to win our first Asian title," India's captain Sandeep Michael said on Wednesday.
"We have been waiting for this moment for the last one-and-a-half year and the boys are geared up to take Pakistan head on and take home the Asia Cup title."
The mouth-watering clash, the first between the arch-rivals on Pakistani soil in five years, follows a much-hyped cricket series between the now-on-mend neighbours which India won earlier this month.
"Cricket is a much high-profile game but we take inspiration from the cricket team's win here and also from the fact that we have won two of the last three matches at the junior level," said 21-year-old Michael.
Defending junior World Cup champions India downed Pakistan 2-0 in the four-nation junior tournament in Malaysia, drew 1-1 at Cairo and then rocked them 5-0 at Poland, in matches during the last two years.
Penalty-corner expert Sandeep Singh, who scored all five goals in Poland, is again India's main weapon.
"Yes, we look to Sandeep again and after we had a tough game against Korea in the semis we expect a more open game and the Asian hockey at its best," said Michael.
Singh, the tournament's top scorer with 14 goals, failed to convert any of the four penalty-corners and also missed a penalty stroke in the 4-3 semi-final win against Korea on Tuesday.
"Korea blocked us and we had no clue what to do and we played defensive which could have cost us dearly," Michael said.
"Pakistan is a tough side and are playing in their den so it would be a 50-50 for us."
Pakistan coach Asif Bajwa said with both teams having already qualified for next year's junior World Cup, the pressure has lessened.
"Both teams will be under less pressure as we have already qualified for the World Cup," said Bajwa, a former Olympian.
"The junior team shows both by Pakistan and India prove that the future of hockey in both these countries is safe," he said.
Pakistan will also look to their schemer captain Shakil Abbasi and penalty-corner expert Imran Warsi to shine in the final.
In two classification matches, China beat Singapore 2-0 to clinch the seventh position while Chinese Taipei won 3-2 against Sri Lanka to earn the eleventh spot.
Defending Asian junior champions Korea play Malaysia in the third-fourth play off tomorrow. The winner will join India and Pakistan in the World Cup.