Since India have already qualified for the all-important Rio Olympics, today's match against Pakistan is no do-or-die clash, but emotions will still run high in both camps given the last encounter between them
Antwerp: India's Dutch coach, Paul Van Ass, who looked relaxed and pleased with his team's dominating win over Poland in the previous game is looking forward to today's match against Pakistan in the ongoing Fintro Hockey World League Semi-Finals. Not only because such a match has a lot emotion and brings out the best from the team under pressure, but as he smiled and said, it will be his first India-Pakistan clash.
India captain Sardar Singh Pic/AFP
India, who beat Pakistan to the gold at the 2014 Asian Games to book a berth to next year's Rio Olympics lost to them at the Champions Trophy clash in Bhubaneswar in December. The clash in Bhubaneswar also left a bad taste as some Pakistani players went overboard with celebrations and made obscene gestures leading to a few suspensions. So, that tension is also bound to be there as the Indians will be looking to avenge this defeat.
"It will be my first game against Pakistan as coach. I have seen India-Pakistan in World Cup in 2010, but have not been a part of it. I know there is a lot of emotion attached to the game and I am looking forward to that," said Van Ass, who had not seen play here before yesterday's 1-6 defeat to Australia which he witnessed.
On his own team, Van Ass added, "We need to control the ball well and our penalty corners ought to give better results. Rupinder Pal was slightly injured but should be back for the match against Pakistan."
Then, the likes of Devindar Walmiki, Yuvraj Walmiki, Satvir Singh, Manpreet Singh, Gurbaj Singh and Chinglensana have all done well while skipper Sardar is not just mentoring the boys but also leading from the front with some excellent play-making.
Friday and Saturday will a tough 48-hour test for the young Indian team, as they Pakistan and Australia on successive days. "We want to win against Pakistan ahead of the game against World Champions Australia the next day. All matches against Pakistan are important because everyone is watching and the boys are very keen to do well. We want to ensure a good solid defence and still keep making attacks and quickly fall back, if needed," said skipper Sardar.
While India have beaten France (3-2) and Poland (3-0) here, Pakistan struggled to beat Poland 2-1 and were outplayed by Australia. Pakistan's coach and former international Shahnaz Sheikh admitted the match against India is important, but stressed on forgetting the past and moving on. "We have a lot at stake in this tournament. We must let bygones be bygones and put up a fine exhibition of hockey, but we want to win this one to improve our position in the group and get a good draw in the quarter-finals."
This is the last opportunity for Pakistan, who have never missed an Olympics Games since 1948, to qualify for Rio. The top three teams from this 10-team tournament will qualify for the Olympics.