KUANTAN (Malaysia): Pakistan hockey team coach Khawaja Junaid says tomorrow encounter against India will be the showpiece match of the Asian Champions Trophy and his side will provide an exhibition of attacking sub-continental hockey.
"An India-Pakistan hockey match is always a game of emotions," said Junaid, asserting that these popular encounters "showcase skills that attracts 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," said Junaid, whose is the two-time defending champion in the Asian Champions Trophy. Junaid said his team includes several young players and was relatively inexperienced compared to the Indian rivals. "The inexperience is what we have to tackle.
We have just had one international tournament in one year," he said. "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." Pakistan were missing from the Olympic Games line-up after failing to earn qualification through the Hockey World League.
A loss in the final of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon to India meant the automatic Asian qualification went to the Indians, who were the only Asian team featuring in the Olympic men's event in Rio de Janeiro. Junaid said tomorrow his team will be pitted against a side that had gained a lot of international experience in recent years. "After the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where India finished last in the12-team event, the Indian team has worked on a five-year play," said Junaid. "Since then, the Indians have played more than 200 matches and their international experience is a reason for climbing up the world rankings," he said.
The Pakistan coach was pleased at the way his boys had soaked in the pressure to prevail 1-0 over South Korea last night after suffering a shock 2-4 loss to hosts Malaysia a day earlier. "I am quite pleased at the way our boys handled the pressure built on us by South Korea. Whenever we got possession, we make it count. The ball was not easily given away and the team kept 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," he said.
"We were pretty disappointed to have given away a lead and lost the opening match to Malaysia, but now we're back on track." Junaid implored his players to keep their emotions in check and stick to the game-plan. "The players need to keep their emotions in check. It was our exuberance that squandered away the lead against Malaysia.
We must also maintain the structure of our game, he added. The Indian captain, PR Sreejesh had yesterday implored his players to play it cool when they take on Pakistan. Seeking to cool the nerves of his players, Sreejesh said the preliminary league fixture against Pakistan was just one of the matches. India had won the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy in 2011 by defeating Pakistan in the final.
Pakistan reversed the result in the title encounter the following year. Pakistan retained the title by defeating Japan in the final in 2013, when India sent their under-21 team and finished fifth.