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Hockey World League: India seek to sort out defensive woes against Malaysia

Antwerp (Belgium): Soundly thrashed by Australia in their last match, India would look to sort out their defensive woes when they take on Malaysia in their quarterfinal match of the Hockey World League Semifinals here tomorrow.

The Indian defenders, who let in six goals against world champions Australia in their last group match, will be again tested by the nippy Malaysians tomorrow as the knockout competition begins at the KHC Dragons Stadium.

Going into tomorrow's quarterfinal encounter against Asian Games champions India, the Malaysians would draw confidence from their 3-2 victory in the last fixture between the two teams at the Azlan Shah Cup two months ago.

While India are looking to make this a fruitful sojourn for the young players being fielded here, Malaysia are expected to throw everything into tomorrow's contest as it could secure them qualification for the Olympic Games.

India's passage to the 2016 Olympics is secure after winning the Asian Games gold medal at Incheon last year, allowing them the luxury of providing exposure to several young players, but they would be eager to finish on the podium ahead of hosting the World League Finals in December.

India coach Paul van Ass is rankled by the way his wards were hustled by Australia in the last preliminary league match, in which India suffered a 2-6 drubbing.

"The way we played against Australia can be very damaging," said coach van Ass, whose team is hampered by the absence of seasoned penalty-corner drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh, who got injured during practice matches here. Rupinder has not played any role in the tournament so far, but was seen training with the team during their last two matches.

Indian captain Sardar Singh said Malaysia, who had arrived here after winning SEA Games gold medal in Singapore, were a competitive team and not easy to get past.

"Malaysia are a tough side, we need to be at our best to be able to match them. We must capitalise on the chances that we get," said Sardar, aware that Malaysia's nippy strikers could pose a threat to India's defence.

Sardar conceded that his team has been giving away soft penalty corners to their opponents while Rupinder's absence has impacted on their own penalty corner conversion.

"We've been giving away easy penalty corners, which can hurt us. Bumpy balls are also the feature of this pitch. One needs to keep that in mind, or else you can be caught on the wrong foot," he said.

"We're missing Rupinder Pal Singh both in converting the penalty corners and in defending those against us," said captain Sardar, even as the team management is cautious not to aggravate the injury by fielding Rupinder too soon.

Unlike this tournament, where injuries have also reduced the strength of the Indian teams, it was a much stronger Indian outfit that was beaten by Malaysia on their home turf at Ipoh in April.

Undaunted by India's status as the reigning Asian Games champions, Malaysia have promised to raise the tempo as they view tomorrow's match as their chance to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Three spots from each of the World League Semifinals are on offer for the Olympic Games, but even some positions outside the semifinals have a realistic chance of making it to the 2016 Olympics.

Multiple qualification routes that allocate five spots to continental tournaments can lead to dual qualification by some countries. That could allow even teams placed fifth or sixth in the World League Semifinals from making it to the Olympics. Former Olympic and world champions Pakistan are also confronted with a tough quarterfinal fixture against Great Britain. Both are eager to seal spots in the Olympic lineup.

For Pakistan, this tournament is their last chance of qualifying for the Olympics. Coach Shahnaz Sheikh said his players will throw everything into the quarterfinal.

"This one victory can take us to the Olympics," said Shahnaz, whose wards lost the Asian Games final to India in penalty shoot-out. Three-time Olympic gold medalists, Pakistan have played at every Olympics since their first appearance in 1948.

Pakistan had failed to feature among the 12 teams for the 2014 World Cup, an event that they have won more times than any other country.

In other quarterfinals, World Cup holders Australia take on Ireland, while hosts Belgium are drawn against France.

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