| Rajinder Singh
Kuala Lumpur: India’s resilience and character will be tested when they clash with holders South Korea in the semi-final of the Asia Cup hockey tournament here Friday, fully aware of their uninspiring track record against the opposition.
Still licking the wounds of their embarrassing 2-4 defeat to arch-rivals Pakistan, the Indians will have to shrug off their disappointing record against the Koreans to keep alive their hopes of breaking the Asian Cup jinx.
Having lost to Korea 4-5 at the same stage in the last edition here, the Indians will be under enormous pressure when they take the field against an in-form team which has improved by leaps and bounds in recent times.
But history seems to be against Dhanraj Pillay and his men, who have not won a single match against the Koreans after their triumph in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games through the tie-breaker. India lost to the Asia Cup champions in the Sydney Olympics 2000, Asian Games 2002 and Champions Trophy in Cologne also in 2002.
“It will be a very tough match tomorrow, because the Koreans play a fast game,” said India’s chief coach Rajinder Singh. “I would put Korea in the same bracket as Pakistan as far as standard of game is concerned. But India are equally matched too, and if our forward line comes good, we would have the upper hand,” he said.
In contrast, Pakistan have a rather easy outing at hand against Japan and the match is expected to be a walkover for the Asian giants.
However, Pakistan coach Tahir Zaman said they could not afford to take it easy against Japan. “For us it is a semi-final and it does not matter who we are playing. Japan beat Malaysia and have reached the last four which proves they have the potential. We cannot take them lightly.”
“Japan, I am sure, will go all out to break any kind of defence. We will leave no loopholes as we are aiming at achieving the target of winning the Asia Cup which we last won in 1989. Now is our chance to clinch the title,” Zaman said.
A factor which could work in India’s favour is that South Korea, who have already qualified for the Athens Olympics by virtue of being Asian Games gold medallists, are concentrating on Olympics with their coach Kim Young-Kyu admitting the Asia Cup was only second in priority and a win here would be a bonus for the team.
“We are fielding as many as 11 youngsters in our team here as this is not as important a tournament for us right now. We are looking ahead at the Olympics...,” he said.
“India are a very good team but our young team is high on spirit and is capable of turning the tables on them,” he said.
India would look at setting right their forward line as the defence stood up to the task against Pakistan. Rajinder Singh said he had a chat with the forwards and they had promised not to miss chances as they did against Pakistan.
“It is all about grabbing the chances. I think we played better hockey than Pakistan but missed chances cost us the match in the end. Tomorrow also whichever team avails the chances will be a winner,” he said.