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India-Pak ready to face off
Biswajyoti Brahma in Lahore | December 11, 2004 15:57 IST
Having managed to qualify for the bronze medal play-off by the skin of the teeth, India would be keen to match their best-ever performance in the Champions Trophy hockey tournament with a win over arch-rivals Pakistan at Lahore on Sunday.
India must be considering themselves lucky to be still in the medal race despite coming up with a mediocre performance that saw them managing just one win from five league matches in the elite six-nation tournament.
They got a chance to play for the 3-4 position after pipping Germany, who have come to the tournament with a developmental side keeping an eye on the 2006 World Cup.
Germany also fetched four points in the league stage quite like India but lagged behind in the goal difference and would play in the relegation match against New Zealand tomorrow.
The final will see European powerhouses Holland and Spain fight it out for a slice of glory at the National Stadium.
Olympic finalists Holland are seeking to win their third title in a row, while Spain must be keen to lay their hands on the Champions Trophy for the first time ever.
Even though the two European teams play for title glory, all eyes in the subcontinent would be fixed on the bronze medal match and the contest promises to be a thrilling affair as several things were at stake for the arch-rivals.
Performance wise, the elite six-nation tournament has so far been forgettable for India and the team must put up a semblance of fight against the hosts to salvage some pride.
A win tomorrow would also help India, who have never qualified to play a Champions Trophy final, match their third-place finish they had managed in 1982 in Amstelveen, Holland.
This would also give underfire coach Gerhard Rach something to cheer about since he took over the mantle from Rajinder Singh just before the Olympics, the team has done nothing noteworthy.
Pakistan, who disappointed their fans after failing to qualify for the final following a morale shattering loss against Spain yesterday, would like to finish off the championship on a high note and give a perfect parting gift to coach Roelant Oltmans, whose contract with the team expires later this month.
The tournament is the final major assignment for Oltmans as Pakistan coach and the Dutchman has already signed up a four-year contract with Holland.
The match would give Pakistani forwards a chance to regain their striking form after an erratic show throughout the tournament that deprived the side a place in the final.
Pakistan, who the league contest between the two sides with a 2-1 margin on Wednesday, are expected to start as favourites, but Rach said his side has the potential to emerge winners.
Pakistan is a better side but it will be 50-50 tomorrow. The gulf between the two teams seemed to be getting narrower with each outing. We have a good team and it would certainly not going to be easy for them," Rach said.
"They had a hard time against us in the last match, we are going to perform even better."
To win tomorrow, India must pray for a quick recovery of Adrian D'Souza from the hamstring injury he suffered during the match against New Zealand.
The goalkeeper had to miss most part of the match after he suffered the injury while charging out to save an attempt from a penalty corner and was replaced under the bar by Devesh Chauhan.
If D'Souza recovers in time, it would be a boost to the Indians as the gutsy custodian seemed to have devised a strategy to counter the deadly drag flicks of world's leading goal scorer Sohail Abbas of Pakistan.
Holland would start as favourites for the title, but they could not afford to take lightly Maurits Hendriks' team that has showed superb skills in the tournament so far.
Germany, who would be upbeat after shocking Holland yesterday, would be looking to carry forward the good form by beating New Zealand and avoid relegation as the team finishing last would miss out an automatic qualification for the next edition.