Before Harendra Singh's boys take on Japan in Muscat at the Asian Champions Trophy 2018 on Saturday night, they would already have known which team they will run into should they make it to Sunday's final.
Two exciting and contrasting semifinals are lined up for Super Saturday, the first of which promises to be a cliffhanger. The Japanese have not beaten India for well over four years now, but predicting a winner for the first semifinal is a hazardous task indeed.
At the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast earlier this year, Roelant Oltmans guided the Men in Green to a 1-1 draw against Malaysia, after Pakistan had lost to their long-time Asian rivals by a scoreline which read 2-3, in the Super 4s of the Asia Cup last October.
More recently, at the Asian Games, Pakistan thrashed the eventual silver medallists by a 4-1 margin in the group stages of the tournament but coach Roelant Oltmans has since switched camps and will now team up with Stephen van Huizen on the Malaysian bench.
Both sides took the field on Thursday, knowing that they would clash again in the semifinal, so not a lot can be read into Pakistan's narrow 1-0 win in a contest which failed to rise to any great heights.
What was encouraging for Hassan Sardar and Rehan Butt, however, was that Pakistan found a late winner even after being down to ten men following a yellow-card incident, and more importantly, kept the pressure on the Malaysians even after playmaker Rizwan Sr. had limped off the pitch midway through the second quarter.
Rehan Butt informed Sportskeeda after the match, that owing to the seriousness of the injury, the Pakistan captain may not take the field for the knockouts as the coaching staff did not want to risk aggravating Rizwan's hamstring ahead of the World Cup.
Adding to Pakistan's woes is the fact that Faizal Qadir and Tauseeq Arshad have also picked up niggles involving the calf muscle and may not be totally fit for Saturday's vital encounter.
The silver lining for Hassan Sardar's team is the fact that Aleem Bilal is doing well with his drag flicks and Mubashar Ali too scored off a PC to give his side the equalizer against Japan.
On the topic of PCs, the Malaysian tigers are without the services of the dreaded Abdul Rahim Razie who scored at the death against the Indians at Jakarta and also at the HWL last year.
Striker Faizal Saari is in prime form, having scored a brace against Japan, and one each against South Korea and Oman. Brother Fitri Saari is not at Muscat, but the Pakistanis will need to keep Tajuddin Tengku and Hasan Azuan at bay even as they attempt to get past the ever-resolute Faiz Jali who has marshalled the Malaysian defence with aplomb.
In goal, Hairi Rahman has been doing admirably following an injury to veteran Kumar Subramaniam, and it will be interesting to see how Oltmans manages the side after having taken charge just a month ago.
The Dutchman, however, is quite familiar with the intricacies of the Pakistan camp -- a fact which Hassan Sardar is well aware of. An absorbing contest is on the cards as two of Asia's best sides battle it out before they lock horns, yet again, on December 5 in a Pool D clash at Bhubaneswar.
Here is how you can catch all the action:
Event: Asian Champions Trophy 2018
Venue: Muscat, Oman
Date: 27 October 2018
Time: 8:25 pm Indian Standard Time (IST)
Telecast: Star Sports 2, Star Sports HD2
Live Streaming: Hotstar
Live Updates: Sportskeeda