India, Pakistan tussle for yellow metal

Cross-border rivals aim for Asian Games gold and a berth in the Rio Olympics

India, Pakistan tussle for yellow metal

 Sparks are set to fly on Thursday when old rivals India and Pakistan clash in the men’s hockey final of the 17th Asian Games here

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While their much-anticipated group phase never lived up to its hype, Thursday’s clash could be a more dramatic one with the gold dangling in front of them.  

The gold is crucial for both the former world heavyweights as it assures them a place in the Rio Olympics, a catalyst each feels will play a major role in reviving the game back home.

History, though, is overwhelmingly against India, having managed to beat Pakistan just once in six final appearances, the last one coming way back in 1966 Bangkok where they rode on Balbir Singh’s extra-time winner to graft a 1-0 win. Since then, India has lost to Pakistan four times in succession, a statistic that will sit heavily on Sardar Singh and Co. With Pakistan also having beaten them 2-1 in the round-robin clash here, they will have some serious running to do.

However, three-time champions India can take heart from their spirited performance against South Koreans where everyone stuck their hands out and delivered. The forwards chased down with intent while the midfield controlled the game well, while their defence too showed a lot of character. 

Often pilloried for making school-boy errors especially towards the end stages, India’s defenders thwarted every Korean raid, safeguarding fort in dogged fashion. The dying minutes of the match saw the Koreans make several attacks but the defenders kept the 1-0 lead intact. What could also inspire Indians is that Pakistan has also not been at their best here. While they imposed themselves against minnows Sri Lanka and Oman, the clash against India was very open and they almost sneaked past Malaysia in the semifinals, sealing the final berth via penalty shoot-out.

Judging by the way both India and Pakistan have gone about their business in this Asiad and looking at their respective squads, the final should be an open affair. The Indians, however, sounded confident. “The team is elated about the fact that India has made it to the final of the tournament after a period of 12 years,” said Sardar. “Considering the defeat against Pakistan in the last match, this final is going to witness a powerful bout from both the sides. It will be a tough match and we are confident to deliver an even tougher fight with positive results this time.”

Coach Terry Walsh felt the final would be a cracking one. “We have made our entry to the final and our organisation and performance will be put to the highest test. Pakistan has their strengths and we will be working hard to capitalise on our strengths and put counters to theirs. This game will be a different contest to the round game. I believe we have the capacity and ability to produce a quality performance at the right moment.”

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