| SOHAIL ABBAS: Primal fear
SEMIS vs PAKISTAN
Busan, Oct. 9: It’s only semi-finals day at the Asian Games men’s hockey competition here on Thursday. For India and Pakistan, though, it’s as good as the final.
“It would have been ideal if we met in the match to decide gold medal but what to do,” Pakistan coach Tahir Zaman said at the Athletes’ Village this morning. “We’ll have to win as nothing less would satisfy our fans.”
Check out the feeling in the other camp. “There is no special preparation as such (for this match). We had a team meeting today where we discussed what we need to do,” said Rajinder Singh.
Dhanraj Pillay, the wily old fox in the Indian armoury, echoed his coach’s views. “I treat it as any other match and tell the same to juniors. Otherwise, you’ll invite trouble,” said Pillay who holds the record for maximum goals against Pakistan (16).
Both Zaman and Rajinder know what it takes to succeed in this Battle of the Sub-continent.
The Pakistani, a feared right-out till he quit five years ago, feels this is not a stage for the weak-hearted. “Players who are mentally strong will find it easier to handle the pressure,” said Zaman, an FIH-qualified coach who took charge four months ago.
“The pressure is from outside, built by the media and people’s expectations. Such is the nature of our relationship and history that it no longer remains a normal sporting event. If you let that get to your head you are a gonner,” Zaman added.
The Pakistan coach feels his side has the psychological edge after having staged a miraculous recovery to snatch the Champions Trophy bronze from India. Pakistan, who had lost the league encounter 2-3, trailed 1-3 in the third place play-off game till 12 minutes from time.
Sohail Abbas is one man India need to watch closely. Besides being a dependable full-back, Abbas is a prolific scorer from penalty corners. The Indian coach shrugged off the Abbas threat. “He has been scoring against other teams but hasn’t had success against us.”
“Man to man, ours is a better balanced outfit. Only their forwardline can match us,” claimed Rajinder whose hattrick in the 1982 Champions Trophy bronze play-off tie against Pakistan helped his team overturn a 0-3 deficit and win.
The Pakistanis were in awesome form against Malaysia, winning the last pool match 6-1. “That’s certainly another positive which we will take into tomorrow’s match,” said the Pakistan coach.
Rajinder, though, believes Pakistan haven’t been tested yet. “Malaysia would have fought if it hadn’t rained that day. On the other hand, we have played two good teams and are well prepared,” claimed the Indian.
The Indians are in no hurry to reintroduce Prabhjot Singh. The left-half started practising Monday but is still not 100 per cent following a ligament pull in the first match here. “We won’t field him unless it’s absolutely essential. Why take chances and jeopardise his future,” said Rajinder.
Daljit Singh Dhillon, Prabhjot’s replacement, has shaped up well and scored in both games. He will have to maintain his form and help Pillay and Gagan Ajit Singh as much as possible.
The key to success will be to see off the first 10-15 minutes and then go for goals. Against Korea, India let in an early goal which cost them victory. The Indians can’t afford to be that lax against a skilful team like Pakistan.