All attention on short-corner specialists
HYDERABAD: The focus shifts to short-corner specialists — Diwakar Ram of India and Kashif Ali of Pakistan — as the two teams clash in the semifinals of the sixth Junior Asia Cup hockey championship for men at Gachibowli Complex here on Wednesday.
For the defending champion and host, it is obvious that its fortune depends on the form and striking prowess of penalty-corner specialist Diwakar Ram, though there is concern at his inability to make optimum use of the short-corners even against a lowly-rated Singapore in the last league match.
Of the 13 that India forced, only three were converted, all by Diwakar. But, the fact that the brains-trust opted for Innocent Kullu in the second half (after six penalty-corners were wasted in the first session) was perhaps symbolic of the fears that Diwakar may have been ‘sorted out’.
By his own confession, he says that he is not satisfied with his consistency despite being the leading scorer for India. “I have to score against the big guns,” he asserts.
In this event, India had a more emphatic route to the semifinals, winning all the three games while Pakistan was held by Korea. It was arguably the best match so far. Later Pakistan struggled to down a fighting Bangladesh which was leading 2-1 at the break.
The Indian forwardline comprising Gurwinder Singh Chandi, Roshan Minz, S.V. Sunil and Pramod Kumar with excellent support from Vivek and Gurbaj Singh has shown enterprise in forcing penalty-corners.
“It is always good to have a slow and steady start as the boys can peak at the right time. And the semifinal should be the platform for them to play to their potential,” says Bansal. “I am confident they can beat Pakistan.”
For their part, the Pakistanis did not have a smooth sailing into the last-four stage. They struggled against both Korea and Bangladesh — trailing at half-time in both the games. The athletic Kashif Ali holds the key for them. He can always look to the strikers Muhammad Tofeeq, Muhammed Zubair and captain Shafqat Rasool who are capable of testing the best of defences.
For the record, India and Pakistan met three times earlier in the Junior Asia Cup with one win each and the other drawn, according to hockey statistician G.B. Joshi. Overall in junior hockey, India has played 19 matches against Pakistan, winning five, losing six and drawing eight. India won 4-0 the last time they played at Guiezno (Poland), in May 2006.
In the other semifinal between Korea and Japan, the former has the edge because of all-round superiority, thanks primarily to the brilliant schemer Nam Hyun Woo who consistently feeds the forwards Bae Jong Suk, captain Kim Seong Kyu and Jeon Byung Jin with precise passes.
Wednesday’s matches (semifinals): India vs Pakistan (5.30 p.m.); Korea vs Japan (8.00 p.m.).