Who among the two — Malaysia and Pakistan — will pick the automatic qualifier spot for the London Olympics in 2010 is a poser awaiting answer in Thursday's Asian Games men's hockey final. Is Malaysia on the threshold of creating another milestone or will this outcome indicate a resurgence of Pakistan, which won the gold last in 1990?

Such interrogations add glamour and suspense to the title fight. Malaysia has been in terrific form in this competition and will surprise none if it conquers Pakistan also, after having shared points with Korea, beating China on home turf, and recording a memorable golden goal triumph against India.

The quality displayed thus far has been outstanding with the attack and defence synchronizing well. The penalty corner strikes by Rahim Muhammad Amin and the finishes by Azlan Misron are to be feared by any combination. Coach Stephen van Huizen has put a lot of effort to fashion a combination that has surpassed all expectations.

There is no denying that history is on the side of Pakistan, with seven gold medals between 1958 and 1990. The undulations in fortunes since then have had a traumatic effect both on the administration and on the quality of performances.

In fact, in 2002 Pakistan returned without a medal in Doha losing to Malaysia in the bronze medal match.

Verve in approach

Now with the Dutch coach van Heuvel bellowing instructions, and the old war horse, Sohail Abbas, guiding the juniors there is a noticeable verve in Pakistan's approach which saw it overcome the strong challenge from Korea, thanks to excellent goal keeping by Salman Akbar.

The youngsters Zubair Muhammad and Shafqat Rasool are shaping well and the veterans Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi are adding their own experience to the attack.

No soothsayer at this point is willing to predict the outcome apart from stating the obvious; a rousing final on the cards.

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