The same four teams that qualified for the semifinals in the Asian Games this year have made it to the same stage in the ongoing Asian Hockey Champions Trophy, and just like the last time, the entire subcontinent is hoping for an India-Pakistan final.
There was disappointment in store for all concerned last time, as the two hockey powerhouses lost their respective semifinals, and instead had to play for third place. Will it be any different this time? Let’s have a look at the semifinal matches and see how the teams stack up against each other.
Semi Final 1: Pakistan Vs. Malaysia
In the first semifinal, second placed Pakistan take on the third placed Malaysia. If one goes by the world rankings, Malaysia is a much higher ranked team as of now. But in this tournament, it was Pakistan which got the better of Malaysia in the round robin stage by a solitary goal. More than the rankings, it is the competitive nature of that match which is a true reflection of what to expect in the semifinal.
Pakistan is struggling with injuries to three of its players – Faisal Qadir, Rizwan Sr., and Tauseeq Arshad. Even if any or all of them recover before the match, it is unlikely Pakistan will risk playing them, as the Hockey World Cup is just round the corner. The injury concerns, one assumes, has tilted the balance a bit in favour of the Malaysians.
Predicted Winner: Malaysia, in a closely fought match
Semi Final 2: India Vs. Japan
Japan is probably the most improved Asian side this year. Though many consider their Asian Games triumph as a fluke, the fact that they managed to defeat South Korea in this tournament, who not long ago were Asia’s number 1 side, proves that they cannot be taken lightly.
Pakistan paid the price of taking Japan lightly in the Asian Games semifinal. India had defeated Japan handsomely in the group stage at the Asian Games, and they repeated the demolition act in the round robin stage in Muscat.
India, one assumes, must have learnt its lesson from the Asian Games debacle. They should stop experimenting and play to win without any unnecessary drama.
Predicted Winner: India, in a one-sided encounter