All eyes around India and Pakistan will be glued to television sets on Saturday when India square off against Pakistan in the second semi-final of the Hero Hockey Champions trophy. It’s a mouth-watering clash between the two nations, and what better way to settle it than on the astro-turf of Bhubhaneshwar, Orissa.
India would definitely have the psychological advantage after their recent win against the bitter rivals in the Asian Games, adding to the fact that they will be playing in front of a vociferous home crowd. Pakistan, on the other hand, would be buoyed to take revenge for that recent loss and hurt India in their own den.
India on a solid run
After two dismal outings against Germany and Argentina in the league stage, India picked themselves up and registered back-to-back impressive wins against the formidable Netherlands and plucky Belgium.
India against the Belgium in the quarters were more than impressive when they defeated them with a superior goal margin of 4-2. With that win, they avenged their recent loss to the Belgians in the World Cup and sent a message to other teams that they mean business.
Captain Sardar Singh has been the knight in shining armour for the Indian team with his consistent performances. He has been a solid bridge between offence and defence and India would again be relying on him.
Indian forwards would be expected to display their goal scoring prowess again as they showed in the quarters. Akashdeep would be the fox in the box for India and goals from his stick will be crucial for the team.
In defense and penalty corners, India would count on the robust shoulders of the trio – Rupinder Pal Singh, V.R. Raghunath and Gurjinder Singh. They also have to be very wary of the Pakistan forwards and keep their defence line tight. Momentary lapses after scoring goals must be kept under check.
Starting line-up: Sardar Singh (captain), P.R. Sreejesh (goal-keeper), Rupinder Pal Singh, V.R. Raghunath, Gurjinder Singh, Manpreet Singh, Danish Mujtaba, Ramandeep Singh, SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah
Pakistan in for revenge
Pakistan coach Shahnaz Sheikh made his intentions clear in an interview when he said, “We will go with our 9-11 strategy against India tomorrow. By 9-11, I mean we will attack with nine players leaving behind two at the back and defend with 11 players. So I call it 9-11.” All of which means there would be a no-love-lost feeling between both the teams.
For Pakistan, it has been a sort of miraculous revival in the Champions trophy. After losing all their league matches dismally, including an 8-2 thrashing by England, they bounced back in the quarters and outclassed the Dutch with a gritty performance.
A young team short in experience, the Pakistani lads would be looking for some inspiration from the captain Muhammad Imran himself. Between the sticks, much would rely on Imran Butt to deny the Indian forwards too many chances on target.
Starting line-up: Muhammad Imran (captain), Imran Butt (goal-keeper), Muhammad Irfan, Muhammad Arslan Qadir, Muhammad Rizwan, Muhammad Waqas, Muhammad Tousiq, Umar Bhutta, Rashid Mahmood, Shafqat Rasool,Ali Shan .