Unimpressive in their three group matches, India would look to make amends and turn the tables on arch-rivals Pakistan when the two sides face each other in the summit clash of men’s hockey in the 12th South Asian Games here tomorrow.
India, fielding a second string team in the Games with a lot of junior players in it, have been struggling to find their form as a unit. They had beaten minnows Bangladesh and Sri Lanka but lost to Pakistan 1-2 in the group match.
With most of senior players featuring in the lucrative Hockey India League, India have very few experienced players with the exception of captain Mandeep Antil and Gurbaj Singh.
India have not been playing to their potential and that showed against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the group matches.
They have to make a vast improvement to their game tomorrow if they want to stop Pakistan from winning their third title on the trot in the Games.
Pakistan had beaten India in both the 2004 and 2010 finals in Colombo and Dhaka, respectively. India won the gold in 1995 in the then Madras.
India began with a 4-1 win over lowly Bangladesh before taking on Pakistan. In the match against Pakistan, India’s defensive weakness was evident. The young Indian defenders gave a lot of space to the Pakistani attackers, while the home side could string together very few goal-scoring moves and eventually lost the match.
In the third match yesterday against Sri Lanka, the lack of teeth in the Indian attack was seen as they could score just three goals against a lowly opposition. Although it is possible that they might have been taking it a bit easy as they knew that they would up against Pakistan in the final.
Besides the defensive weakness, another area on which India need to make amends is the penalty corner conversion. In the match against Pakistan, after trailing 0-1, India got a penalty corner just before the half time but rather than making the chance count, the PC was not even pushed properly for the shot to be taken and it went abegging.
The same happened in the match against Sri Lanka as the penalty corner push was wayward and it could not be stopped properly for a strike.
With the team strung together for this tournament, it is evident that the players lacked understanding and showed in the passing so far.
Pakistan have also come without many senior players but they have more national team players than India and they would start as the slight favourites tomorrow in their quest for a hat-trick of titles.