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Pakistan hockey coach feels playing more matches helped in India’s ranking rise

Pakistan face India in the Men's Champions Trophy on Sunday.

FHOCKEY-MEN-WORLD-PAK-IND : News Photo
Indian and Pakistani players battling it out in last year’s Hockey World League 

As hockey fans await the mouthwatering India vs Pakistan match in the round-robin stage of the 2016 Asian Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy scheduled on Sunday, the Pakistan coach Khawaja Junaid has claimed that playing a lot of international matches has been responsible for India’s climb up the world rankings. 

Four years ago, India endured a miserable campaign at the 2012 London Olympics where the eight-time gold medallists failed to progress out of the group stage, having lost all five of their matches.

Since then, the turnaround has been impressive and Junaid pointed out that India played more than 200 international matches since then which was instrumental in its revival.

“After the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where India finished last in the 12-team event, the Indian team has worked on a five-year play,” said Junaid on Saturday. “Since then, the Indians have played more than 200 matches and their international experience is a reason for climbing up the world rankings.”

In contrast, Pakistan managed to play just a solitary international event in the past one year. Since their outing at the World League Semifinals in Antwerp in July 2015, India’s arch-rivals could only turn up at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in April this year. That is because, after their 2014 Asian Games final loss to India, the three-time Olympic champions failed to qualify for Rio through the Hockey World League as well, leaving India the only Asian team at the Games.

Inexperienced Pakistan side

Those lack of matches can prove to be a decisive factor in their crucial encounter against India, especially because the Pakistan side this time is composed of young players. And Junaid is well aware that his young brigade has an uphill task in their hands on Sunday.

“The inexperience is what we have to tackle. We have just had one international tournament in one year. After the World League Semifinals in Antwerp last year, the Pakistan team’s only outing was the Sutan Azlan Shah Cup, where we played seven matches.”

Ind-Pak match a game of emotions, says Pakistan coach

It’s not just about experience. An India vs Pakistan match always evokes the greatest of emotions on both sides of the border and keeping them in check would be one of the greatest challenges during this much-awaited contest. 

“An India-Pakistan hockey match is always a game of emotions,” the Pakistan coach admitted, adding that these encounters “showcase skills that attract millions of spectators to the sport.”

“Hockey’s popularity has a lot to do with the India-Pakistan matches. We promise to give a good display against India tomorrow,” emphasised Junaid.

Victory against South Korea brings us back on track, says Junaid 

Even though facing India is a different ballgame altogether, the two-time champions have reasons to feel upbeat. Their campaign at this tournament began on a disastrous note where they were thumped 2-4 by Malaysia in their opener. But Pakistan rebounded magnificently and posted a 1-0 win over South Korea in their very next assignment.

Suffice to say, that victory has been a big boost for Pakistan’s boys and one that they desperately needed to be in the right frame of mind for the India challenge. 

“I am quite pleased the way our boys handled the pressure built on us by South Korea. Whenever we got possession, we made it count. The ball was not easily given away and the team maintained the structure even under tremendous pressure,” said Junaid.

“For us, the last-minute goal against South Korea last night was the comeback into the tournament. We were pretty disappointed to have given away a lead and lost the opening match to Malaysia, but now we’re back on track,” he said.

India unbeaten

2011 champions India are yet to lose any of their matches so far in this tournament. After starting with a colossal 10-2 victory over Japan, India came back from a one-goal deficit to finish tied 1-1 with South Korea in their second group match on Saturday. 

There’s no doubt that a cracking tie is on the cards that will light up the stadium at Kuantan in Malaysia on Sunday.  

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