Kuantan (28 Oct, 2016): A historic re-match between India and Pakistan in the QNET 4th Asian Champions Trophy could very well be on the cards should the traditional arch rivals get their acts right in tomorrow’s semi-finals encounters at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium in Kuantan.
The Indians, who won the inaugural 2011 edition of the Champions Trophy, will play Korea in the first semi-finals (6.15pm Malaysian time) while two-time champions Pakistan faceoff against Malaysia (8.30pm). Should both teams win their encounters, Sunday’s final will be another epic battle between the two nations.
However, one this is certain. India and Pakistan will have to dig deep into their reserves to turn their fortunes around against their opponents judging from current form and performance. The Indians were held to a 1-1 draw by Korea while Pakistan was stunned 2-4 against Malaysia Tigers in pool matches.
India’s head coach Roelant Oltmans, said: “Korea is a very strong team and have improved a lot. They are at the moment the most consistent team in the tournament. Their defence is simply superb and we have to find a solution how to break it and get the goals,” said Oltmans on the eve of the semi-finals encounter in Kuantan.
“Before we left India for the Asian Champions Trophy, I knew we will have to face Malaysia, Pakistan or Korea in the semi-finals. Today, we will have to plan our strategy against the Koreans once again. They have only conceded seven goals in five matches and scored 11. The averages put them in a better rating,” said the Dutchman.
Indian defender Surender Kumar will not play any role in the ongoing Asian Champions Trophy after being suspended for two matches following a deliberate foul during the game against Malaysia. Oltmans, however, believes Surender’s absence will not pose any problems in the balance in the team as they have enough firepower to challenge the Koreans.
Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh is also a doubtful starter against the Koreans as he is nursing an ankle injury. Should he not recover for the semi-finals, Akash Chikte will return to keep the Koreans at bay.
For Malaysian head coach Stephen van Huizen, Saturday’s semi-finals encounter between Malaysia Tigers and two-time champions Pakistan is expected to bloom into another thrilling night.
Van Huizen’s Malaysia Tigers have been enjoying a terrific run in the tournament with a 4-2 victory over the Pakistanis in the opening match, defeated China 5-1 and Japan 7-2 until India slammed the brakes on the host following a 2-1 win on Wednesday but as Van Huizen puts it the semi-finals is a new chapter for both teams to renew their rivalry.
Malaysia finished second in the final table standings on 10 points after hold Korea to a 1-1 draw on Thursday – three points behind leaders India.
“Tomorrow’s match is a different ball game than in the pool matches. It’s a one-off playoff match and our preparation is different. If the match ends in a draw we have to go into penalty shootouts. Coming into this tournament we had set a semi-finals target but that we finished second in the group is a great achievement but that does not mean anything now,” said Van Huizen.
“The semi-final is a new game. Though we managed to beat Pakistan 4-2 in the pool match they (Pakistan) are playing so much better now and have also improved a lot. Everything depends on how we structure our game against them,” he added.
If qualifying for the semi-finals is a great achievement, Malaysia Tigers are also expecting to hear another piece of good news as forward Faizal Saari’s wife is due to deliver their first child any time soon. Faizal has been playing exceptionally well in Champions Trophy, having scored four goals, and will be a great asset against Pakistan.
“We fully understand his situation, no doubt about that. He is prepared to stay and play in the semi-finals but we will reassess the situation and see how it goes when the moment arrives,” said Van Huizen.
Team captain Sukri Mutalib, a teacher by profession, says Pakistan’s forte, just as Malaysia, lies in penalty corner conversions and that the defence will need to thwart Pakistani forwards from capitalising on such opportunities as they did in the pool match.
The Malaysians have played Pakistan two times in the last seven months and triumphed in both encounters – winning 1-0 in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh in April and 4-2 in the ACT here in Kuantan.
Pakistan head coach, Khawaja Junaid reckoned that cool nerves and keeping emotions in check will be the vital cog in securing victory.
“It is going to be a game of steel nerves and mental strength. After we lost against the Malaysians in the pool match, I told the players we need to recover and get into the semi-finals. Now that we have accomplished our first mission, the second will be to keep our heads calm and do the best against Malaysia. It is going to be another very tough battle as Malaysia in front of their fans. They have a very strong playing structure.”
“They have players with great individual execution who can turn the game around anytime. Like I said, players who have steely nerves will perform well in the game and I am counting on our players,” he added.
Since the World League semi-finals in Belgium last year, Pakistan has not had many opportunities in playing international tournaments. Tomorrow’s match is just about Pakistan’s 13th international match since 2014.
Fixtures – SATURDAY: Fifth-Sixth Playoff: China v Japan (4pm).
Semi-finals: India v Korea (6.15pm); Malaysia v Pakistan (8.30pm). All Malaysian times.
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