Asian Games 2018: Harendra's boys look to avenge Guangzhou defeat in men's hockey semis against Malaysia
At Guangzhou, in 2010, Indian legend Sandeep Singh had equalized for his team after Abdul Tengku had given Malaysia the lead in the second semifinal of the men's hockey event.
A see-saw battle ensued in the second half (of a 70-minute encounter) with both teams scoring a second goal before Rajpal Singh gave his team the lead in the 54th minute.
India vs Malaysia - Guangzhou to Jakarta
The Indians looked to be coasting to victory when Muhamad Amin Rahim converted a PC following a defensive lapse with just 3 minutes left on the clock. Rahim scored yet again in golden goal extra time to power his team to the final, leaving Indian fans tearful and heartbroken.
The Indians had played Malaysia no less than ten times before the 2010 Games and recorded their first and only loss at Guangzhou.
Coach Harendra Singh had then tendered his resignation to HI secretary general Narinder Batra after the defeat accepting moral responsibility for the team's failure to make it to the final.
Eight years later, Harendra Singh is at the helm again, of an Indian side who stunned the world with a stupendous show in the Champions Trophy, and have continued to astound spectators with a superb performance in the pool matches at Jakarta.
Yet again, the Asian Games semifinal is against the Malaysians. Will the Indians rise to the occasion this time around?
Will the Indian players do it for Harendra?
The statistics from Jakarta are indeed relishing if one is an Indian hockey fan but not necessarily so palatable when viewed from the rival camp. A mind-boggling 76 goals were pumped in by Harendra Singh's team which is just three short of the total goals scored by the other five teams in Pool A!
Spectators have indeed been privileged to witness some scintillating runs, mesmerizing stickwork, and some incredible individual skills particularly with reference to Akashdeep Singh's outrageous tomahawks.
The pool stages have now wound up and more serious business begins as Sreejesh and co. get set to play the knockouts where the quality of the opposition is significantly more seasoned and proficient.
The defending champions conceded 3 goals against the Koreans and will be aware that in spite of their heroics in the pool stages, they are not infallible especially since the defence has not been sufficiently tested.
Recent record against Malaysia less than encouraging
The Indians will be up against Malaysia knowing fully well that their recent record against their continental rivals has not been particularly encouraging. In the HWL Semifinal at London last year, the Indians coached by Roelant Oltmans were in their seventh heaven after having thrashed Pakistan 7-1 but came crashing down after a 2-3 loss to Malaysia.
The defeat against the Malaysians was the beginning of the end for Roelant Oltmans' India stint and the Dutchman was relieved of his duties even though the Indians beat Pakistan 6-1 yet again in the same tournament. At last year's Azlan Shah Cup too, the Indians went down to hosts Malaysia by a solitary goal in a frustrating encounter.
The Indians will, however, take heart from the fact that a young and inexperienced team thrashed the Malaysians in the Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year.
Ramandeep Singh and Gurjant Singh had played a key role in India's 5-1 win at Ipoh. Incidentally, Ramandeep is not in the present squad because of a knee fracture and neither is Gurjant.
In fact, the only members at Jakarta who were part of Sjoerd Marijne's squad are Sardar Singh was the captain then, Surender Kumar, Simranjeet Singh, Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas and goalkeeper Krishan Pathak.
The Malaysians, in Pool B, have done reasonably well, winning all their matches by huge margins, and have scored 41 goals with 6 against. Pakistan, however, got the better of the Malaysians winning by a 4-1 margin to top the pool.
Irrespective of all the past records, this Indian side is indeed capable of beating the very best as they displayed at Breda, and Harendra's side will probably start favorites against any team in the world at present.
World Champions Australia were on the backfoot against the Indians in the Champions Trophy, and if Sreejesh's boys perform to their potential, a second successive Asian Games final is very much on the cards.