ACT 2023: India aim to avoid complacency against Pakistan

A win for Pakistan will guarantee them a spot in the last four stage

India Asian Champions Trophy (File) India's Jugraj Singh with teammates celebrate after scoring a goal against Malaysia during the Asian Champions Trophy 2023 hockey match, at Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium, in Chennai | PTI

Their semifinal berth already sealed, three-time champions India would look to guard against complacency when they take on arch-rivals Pakistan in a high-voltage last round-robin league match of the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai on Wednesday.

There has been complete contrast in the overall performance of both sides in the tournament so far. While the hosts are unbeaten in the four games they played so far, Pakistan have managed only a win along with a couple of draws and a loss and their semifinal hopes depend on the result of this vital clash.

A win for Pakistan will guarantee them a spot in the last four stage, but a defeat would leave their fate on the result of the match between China and Japan. If Pakistan loses on Wednesday, they will hope for China to upset Japan. In case Japan win, the victory of margin should be lesser.

Besides Pakistan would also hope Malaysia beat South Korea by a big margin, which would benefit the Men in Green. With three wins and a draw, India are atop the table with 10 points, followed by Malaysia (9 points), South Korea (5), Pakistan (5), Japan (2) and China (1).

Even though both India and Pakistan have won the title three times each, going by current ranking and world stature, India will definitely start as favourites on Wednesday. While India is ranked fourth in the world, Pakistan is way below in the 16th position.

But ranking hardly matters when it comes to a high-profile India-Pakistan contest and the result could eventually be decided on which team handles pressure the best.

While Harmanpreet Singh and his men have been playing attacking hockey and have improved the strike rate of short corners, India will have to strengthen their defence ahead of the business end of the tournament.

"We still need to work defensively and not give away silly PCs. We need to tackle better inside and do most of the tackling outside the box," Singh had said.

A day's rest after back-to-back matches will definitely help both India and Pakistan.

Elaborating on the challenges of playing matches on consecutive days, India head coach Craig Fulton said: "It's a hindrance for every team in the event, because if you check the scores of the team playing the next day, they have mostly been draws.”

"Today (Monday) was a bit different, but yes, consecutive games are a bit harder to play ... It's a grind, and it's tough. The momentum swings drastically in back-to-back games, and you gotta be able to manage all of it."

Pakistan will be going into the match against India on the back of a narrow 2-1 win over China which helped them to stay in contention for a semifinal place.

However, the team was found wanting in their finishing abilities, something which it would have to improve when it takes on the hosts.

The intensity is always high when it comes to any Indo-Pak match, and the visitors will have to keep their nerves in control in front of a vociferous Indian crowd. "We will need to teach our young lads (about handling the crowd pressure) who are playing here for the first time," said Pakistan's stand-in head coach Muhammad Saqlain.

"If you can close your ears and focus on the game, we surely can play good hockey. Also, if both the teams play good hockey, it would be a great achievement for Asian hockey."

For India, it would be a battle for the top spot against Malaysia. However, there is a strong chance that India might face off against Pakistan in the semifinal, as the table toppers take on the fourth-placed side in the last four. The team which finishes second will play third spot side on Friday.

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