Sparks set to fly as India take on Pak

Down in rankings, the arch rivals can still bring the game alive as they look for a spot in final

Sparks set to fly as India take on Pak

After little more than a week of action, four familiar teams -- two with great history behind them and two deserving credit for changing the way the game is being played today -- will lock horns in the Champions Trophy semifinals at the Kalinga Stadium here on Saturday.

While 13-time Champions Trophy winners Australia will take on nine-time victors Germany, arch-rivals India and Pakistan will resume their on-pitch hostilities two months after they faced each other in the Asian Games final. India then had defeated Pakistan for the gold.

Although both India and Pakistan have slid drastically down the world rankings and the distance between them and the top teams has been really wide, whenever they clash against each other, the match assumes greater significance for reasons well known.

Things won’t be any different on the morrow too with India seeking to end a rare joyous year with a third major medal and Pakistan determined to exact revenge for their loss at Incheon.

On paper, India can claim to be the favourites with the team slowly finding their groove and a raucous crowd set to cheer every move of theirs. But Pakistan showed against the Netherlands just how unpredictable they can be, pulling off a stunning 4-2 win despite losing all their group games, including an 8-2 drubbing at the hands of England.

When India lost their opening two group games, one through a final minute winner and other despite holding the lead twice, it appeared their familiar defensive woes were back to hurt them.

Their strikers too seemed intent only on whacking the ball into the ‘D’, hardly showing the inclination to hold possession and dribble into the opponents’ circle. However, they rectified those mistakes against Netherlands, notching up their first win in 18 years over the Oranje.

That confidence seemed to rub on them as they displayed character and mental fortitude to bounce back from 0-2 down to oust Belgium 4-2 in the quarterfinals with the defence producing a stand-out performance.

They were under the gun for most of the match but with captain Sardar Singh playing a much deeper role, they soaked up the pressure very well, allowing their fleet-footed strikers to unleash the dangerous counter-attacks that knocked the stuffing out of Belgium.

Judging by the way India has gone about the business so far this year, the ploy would be to keep things tight at the back, considering Pakistan too possess skill and guile upfront, and attack in short bursts.

Pakistan, having achieved their goal of advancing to semifinals, have enjoyed the upper hand in overall as well Champions Trophy head-to-head records. Looking ordinary during the group games, they cramped the Dutch for room in quarterfinal, proving they too can play with discipline.

They were ruthless in the penalty corners, using craft and power that had the normally organised Netherlands in tatters. They troubled India during both the matches -- group and final – at the Asian Games which could have gone either way.

Pakistan also knows that pressure is on India to win, especially with a full house set to back them. It is imperative for India to not to get carried away by the occasion and plays its natural game. If they can keep their composure, the game should be an interesting one.

Meanwhile, modern powerhouses Australia and Germany will have their own agendas in the opening semifinal. World champions Australia and Olympic gold medallists Germany, both rebuilding squads for the Rio Olympics, have struggled here but they rise when the stakes get bigger.

Both looked erratic and suffered some rare defeats in the group phase but showed their familiar traits during their respective wins in the quarters. While Australia were ruthless in their attacks, the Germans were watertight in their defence.

The two have not met since the London Olympics semifinal when Germany triumphed 4-2 and this tournament being an important stepping stone, the youngsters will be keen to prove their mettle.
DH News Service

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