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India keen to continue run vs Pakistan

Hyderabad: India will rely on home advantage to maintain their winning streak against Pakistan when the traditional rivals meet in the Afro-Asian Games men’s hockey final here on Friday.

Although Pakistan have a better overall record, India have won four of their last seven encounters and coach Rajinder Singh is confident of keeping the momentum going in what is expected to be a classic encounter of nerves and skill.

This is the third meeting in a crunch situation between the neighbours in the last two months. It was in Amstelveen where Pakistan triumphed to bag the Champions Trophy bronze medal but India more than made up by annexing the Asia Cup title last month in Kuala Lumpur.

Both teams entered this event without some experienced stars, with India coming from behind to win their league-phase clash. Of course, that result will have no bearing on the final.

The hosts cannot take anything for granted, especially after their tie-break victory in the semi-final over Malaysia and Pakistan’s vastly improved display against the Koreans.

The Indians frittered numerous chances against Malaysia and were ultimately saved the blushes by goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan, who palmed away Boon Huat Chua’s attempt in the shootout.

The Indian coach knows his boys cannot afford to repeat the mistakes committed against Malaysia in the gold-showdown with Pakistan, who have settled down well under coach-designate Roelant Oltmans of The Netherlands.

“We played good hockey yesterday which was evident from the number of chances we created. But poor finishing really gave us a scare and we would not like a repeat tomorrow,” Rajinder said. “The two teams are almost on equal terms. Though in recent times we have won more matches, a match against Pakistan is always a difficult proposition.”

Motivation can never be at a premium in an Indo-Pak clash, but come Friday, the hosts will try to reverse the trend of the team winning the league-phase clash going on to lose in the knockout stage.

India won the Champions Trophy league match before losing the bronze-medal play-off in Amstelveen. In the Asia Cup, it was the other way around. In this meet, India won the preliminary tie 4-2 and would be out to deny Pakistan revenge.

Pakistan coach Tahir Zaman seemed least interested in this theory. “Whatever the circumstance, a win against India is always special. We have some new players who are really playing good hockey… it will provide them good exposure,” Zaman said.

“Our defence was a problem in the first match against Pakistan. We would like to shore it up tomorrow,” captain Dilip Tirkey said.

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