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Asia Cup hockey SF: Unbeaten India wary of unpredictable Malaysia

August 29, 2013 15:48 IST
Sardar Singh

Brimming with confidence after three consecutive victories, India will have to guard against complacency when they take on hosts Malaysia, a side capable of springing surprises, in the semi-final of the ninth Asia Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Friday.

Unlike their opponents, the Indians are high on confidence after securing the semi-finals berth with an unbeaten record.

The Sardar Singh-led side spanked debutants Oman 8-0, followed by victories over defending champions South Korea (2-0) and Bangladesh (9-1) to top Pool B.

Malaysia, on the other hand, finished second in Pool A. They beat Chinese Taipei and Japan, but lost to Pakistan.

Fully aware that two more wins in the tournament will ensure them a ticket to next year's World Cup at The Hague, Netherlands, the 11th ranked Indians cannot afford to relax during the business end of the eight-nation tournament, especially against an unpredictable side like Malaysia.

India, which has never missed out on a World Cup berth since the tournament's inception in 1971, will like to avoid the repeat of yet another debacle after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the Indian team had failed to qualify for the first time in the history of the game.

Having played Malaysia on numerous occasions, India start as favourites, but know very well that the hosts are capable of upsetting the best of teams.

Asia Cup hockey SF: Unbeaten India wary of unpredictable Malaysia

August 29, 2013 15:48 IST
India goalkeeper P R Sreejesh

Another factor which will work against India in the semi-final is home support. Come Friday the Malaysians would be backed by a vociferous home crowd, something India captain Sardar Singh conceded.

"It is a very crucial match for us in recent times. Malaysia is a tough opponent. You cannot predict them. We will have to play against the entire stadium tomorrow as they will have home support behind them," Sardar said, ahead of the semi-final.

"But we are completely focussed on our job. We know we have to win and we are confident of pulling it across," he added.

Thus far, the Indians have impressed all and sundry in the tournament and will be hoping to carry the momentum in the last two games.

As always, captain Sardar Singh was rock-solid in India's midfield. Under his shadow youngsters like Manpreet Singh, Chinglensana Singh and S K Uthappa have blossomed.

India's young and inexperienced forwardline too has lived up to expectations.

In the absence of the quartet of Danish Mujtaba, SV Sunil, Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Akashdeep Singh -- all out of the tournament due to injuries, India fielded a young, untested forwardline for this tournament.

But the likes of Mandeep Singh, Nithin Thimmaiah, Malak Singh, Ramandeep Singh and Nikin Thimmaiah rose to the occasion and the vacuum left by the absence of the senior injured players was not felt.

Young Mandeep, in particular, is in superb form and has scored four goals in the tournament.

Asia Cup hockey SF: Unbeaten India wary of unpredictable Malaysia

August 29, 2013 15:48 IST
Penalty-corner ace Raghunath

India's interim coach, Roelant Oltmans, is happy with the fact that after a slow start his drag-flickers are finally coming to the party.

Penalty-corner exponents Rupinderpal Singh and V Raghunath slammed hat-tricks each against Bangladesh in their last pool match, the former going on to score four goals in the match as India converted six out of the 10 short corners they earned in the game.

"We converted 60 per cent of our penalty-corners and that is a very high rate. I am happy with their (Rupinder and Raghunath) performance. It's a very good percentage," Oltmans said.

On the goalkeeping front, P R Sreejesh is in rollicking form and against Korea he made as many as six-seven clear saves, which included some acrobatic efforts.

Oltmans, however, cautioned his wards ahead of the all-important semi-final.

"It is fantastic to play Malaysia. I am looking forward to that game. It will be a very tight game," he added.

"There is no pressure, we enjoy playing hockey. I told my players if you feel pressure give it to me. I will take it, you just play hockey."

Meanwhile, in the other semi-final, Pakistan will lock horns with title-holders South Korea.