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India, Pakistan looking to settle scores
Anand Philar | March 05, 2004 22:24 IST
After two lacklustre performances, one of which saw them drop two points in the opener against Belgium, India will be all pumped up when they take on arch-rivals Pakistan in a crucial Pool B match of the Men's Olympic hockey qualifying tournament in Madrid on Saturday.
The rival coaches, Rajinder Singh and Roelant Oltmans, have predicted a close game that could go either way depending on who blinks first.
Given the emotion and passion the contest between the teams evoke, the coaches felt that the game would not be so much about tactics and strategy, as the ability to withstand intense pressure, which would dictate the outcome.
Rajinder said: "Though we won most of the matches against Pakistan last year, I would like to say that each game is different. It will all depend on which team plays better on a given day, and that is especially true in modern hockey where anything is possible."
Oltmans, who took Holland to the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, said: "With Pakistan and India, you cannot say anything for sure. It will be a tough match and I am certain that the spectators will be treated to some top class hockey."
Neither coach was prepared to predict the result. For his part, Oltmans said his team's main focus is to qualify for the Olympics.
"We have come here not just to play India, but to make it to Athens. That is our main concern."
Asked specifically about the match against India, Oltmans said: "I am fully aware of the intensity of emotions and passions, but then I am quite used to it, since it is the same whenever Holland takes on Germany.
"India is a good side, and their record against us last year is a warning for us. We know what they are capable of."
Oltmans was obviously referring to India's clutch of victories, five in eight games. But then, he pointed out that the stakes are higher this time around.
Significantly, Pakistan beat India 4-3 in the bronze medal play-off in the Champions Trophy at Amstelveen last August after having lost to the same team 4-7 in the league.
On the other hand, a virtual second string Indian team nearly pulled off an unexpected win against a full-strength Pakistan at the Azlan Shah Cup in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this January.
India led 2-1, but eventually lost 2-3 with Sohail Abbas achieving a hat-trick for Pakistan from penalty-corner conversions.
Tomorrow, Pakistan will again be looking up to Abbas to deliver, something Rajinder and his boys are only too aware of.
"Pakistan have the best penalty-corner specialist in world hockey today in Sohail Abbas. So, we have to be careful in the deep defense not to concede penalty-corners," said Rajinder.
Take away Abbas and both the teams appear well matched, boasting of some highly talented players who have proved worthy heirs to a glorious legacy of Asian artistry.
The Indian forwards, after running into a Belgian wall on the first day, displayed good form against Malaysia on Thursday when they rallied from a two-goal deficit to scored five goals. However, they need to sustain the momentum against Pakistan whose deep defense has appeared rather shaky.
On the other hand, the Pakistani forwards have been equally nippy, but as inconsistent inside the striking circle.
Oltmans said, "Our conversion rate inside the circle has not been up to the mark. Our forwards have missed out on several chances and against stronger teams than Canada and Belgium, it could prove costly."