Former Pakistan Hockey player Muhammad Saqlain is currently the chief coach of the Pakistan Hockey Team competing at the Hero Asian Champions Trophy 2023.
Pakistan are placed fourth in the standings ahead of their final group-stage match against India. They need a win or a draw to secure their place in the semi-finals of the Hero Asian Champions Trophy 2023.
India will host Pakistan in the 15th and final league-stage match of the Asian Champions Trophy 2023 at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium in Chennai. The match will begin at 8:30 pm IST on Wednesday, August 9.
Sportskeeda caught up with Muhammad Saqlain ahead of all-important India vs Pakistan clash. Among a variety of topics, he spoke about the performance of the youngsters in the tournament and stated that the team has improved with every match.
Saqlain also opened up on his previous visit to Chennai and his thoughts on India vs Pakistan rivalry.
Q. Your penalty corners conversion rate has been much better over the last two games when compared to the initial matches. What's your take on that?
Muhammad Saqlain: I'm happy that we're improving as a team. However, we need to have better progress and convert more penalty corners. In every match, we need to score a minimum of two goals from penalty corners and two field goals. In modern hockey, you are safe with four goals.
With just one or two goals, we're not safe and with three goals we can maximum settle for a draw. To win a match, we have to manage to score four goals at the least.
Q. What are your plans to stop India from converting penalty corners?
Muhammad Saqlain: Our target is to not give them penalty corners. We are working on multiple strategies to defend India's penalty corners as that's their strong point. If we manage to stop their penalty corners and keep them at bay during the first half, it'll be very helpful for us.
Q. How's been the progress of the youngsters since you joined the team as a coach?
Muhammad Saqlain: There has been a lot of improvement in the youngsters since Day 1. They are getting better with every game and the team is playing in a structure. India and Pakistan are known for playing attacking hockey and my boys are playing that.
Our defense has been an issue and we are working on improving it. The role of goalkeeper in modern hockey is also very important. To win against a big team, you need to play your best game in every aspect.
Q. Comparison of India and Pakistan's playing style
Muhammad Saqlain: India's fitness is top notch and that is their plus point. India's penalty corner is really good. They play for the penalty corners. That's why I said that they don't play in a proper structure.
Meanwhile, our team is lacking fitness and we need to work on that. Moreover, we need to work on penalty corners and finishing too. The Pakistan team is known for their attacking and that's our style of play.
Q. What would be the morale of the team if you win/lose against India?
Muhammad Saqlain: Our morale will definitely be high if we manage to beat or draw against India as they are considered among the top teams in the world.
I see India vs Pakistan match just like any other match for us. The match is usually seen as a big rivalry, but I'll treat it just like any other game for the Pakistan team. According to me, there is not much pressure as when the two nations used to play against each other before.
Q. You last came to Chennai in 2007 and are coming again now in 2023. What are the changes you see in Chennai over the years?
Muhammad Saqlain: This time we came via the Wagah Border. During the previous visit to the city, the roads were not so good. I still remember that during India's visit to Pakistan in 1999, they used to praise our roads. However, the roads in India are much better now.
There are lots of improvements in Chennai, which is very good for the country. There's been a lot of development. It has become very neat and clean.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Chennai fans?
Muhammad Saqlain: The fans are really good and they understand hockey very well. They have been appreciating us whenever we make good moves.