MALAYSIA: A win away from final, Indian hockey team would like to guard themselves against complacency when they square off with hosts Malaysia in what can turn out to be a tricky encounter in the 26th Azlan Shah Cup here tomorrow.
With defending champions Australia needing just a draw against rank outsiders Japan, India are aware that a slip up against Malaysia can leave them stranded and Great Britain can overtake them in the round-robin league standings. India only have a one-goal edge over Great Britain, which can change quickly after the Britons have played New Zealand in their last league outing.
India will have the advantage of knowing what is required of them as they will feature in the last fixture, but if a lot of goals are required, then the strikers will have to get their acts together. Only Mandeep Singh, who yesterday scored a hat-trick against Japan, and Akashdeep Singh among the Indian strikers have so far seemed dangerous inside the circle. Otherwise, the Indians have largely been dependent upon their penalty corner duo of Rupinderpal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh to score goals.
After yesterday's close shave against the lowly-ranked young outfit from Japan, which India managed to win 4-3 after trailing twice, coach Oltmans has warned his team that Malaysia are dangerous opponents. "There should be no doubt that Malaysia are a very good side. I rate them very high," said Oltmans. "No opponent can be taken lightly. You saw how Japan challenged us, but come tomorrow and we'll be prepared for the challenge put up by Malaysia."
After Japan, preparing a young team for the 2020 Olympics where they have a direct entry as hosts, gave India a fright, Oltmans and his players are aware that Malaysia can make it tougher. Malaysia have often given India a good contest.
Going through a painful sequence of missed opportunities in this tournament, hosts Malaysia will play for pride against India in the last league match. Starting with a draw against Japan, the Malaysians have lost three successive matches, but only after missing scoring chances galore.
Malaysian coach Stephen van Huizen is looking for positives even in the successive 1-0 defeats they have suffered against Great Britain and New Zealand. "The results may show a downward trend, but my team has shown some sparkle and pushed the rivals. We failed to take out chances and that's reflected in the results," says van Huizen, now looking to make amends for these lapses.
Malaysia's loss to New Zealand yesterday meant they do not have a chance to play in the bronze medal play-off but they will be looking to salvage some pride in the last league match against India, who will be seeking their second successive entry into the final.
Last year, India finished runners-up as Australia clinched their ninth title in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Australia defeated India 4-0 in the 2016 final. World champions Australia are on top of the standings with 10 points in four matches.
Beside India and Great Britain, New Zealand also have seven points, but are in fourth spot as their goal-difference is inferior in comparison. The Black Sticks too have a chance of making the final, if they post a victory over Great Britain tomorrow and India are not able to surpass the Malaysian challenge.
The narrowest of wins can do the trick for New Zealand if Malaysia manages to hold India to a draw.
New Zealand have inducted a lot of youngsters in the squad for this tournament. This choice was forced upon them as seven senior internationals were playing in Europe and the selectors did not want to disrupt their club contracts.