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India looks to sustain Asia Cup form

Pakistan manager Hassan Sardar (right) and Indian coach Rajinder Singh exchange pleasantries as Indian captain Dilip Tirkey (centre) looks on, at the Gachibowli Twin Stadium in Hyderabad on Wednesday. — Photo: Vino John

Pakistan manager Hassan Sardar (right) and Indian coach Rajinder Singh exchange pleasantries as Indian captain Dilip Tirkey (centre) looks on, at the Gachibowli Twin Stadium in Hyderabad on Wednesday. — Photo: Vino John  

HYDERABAD OCT. 22. It is an Inter-Continental show but the focus is on the showdown between the traditional rivals, India and Pakistan, which face each other on October 27, as the hockey matches commence on Thursday in the inaugural edition of the Afro-Asian Games at the Gachibowli hockey complex.

An Indo-Pak duel on Indian soil, after a gap of four years, should only heighten the tension amidst high expectation. This, despite the presence of Korea, the Busan Asian Games gold medallist, Egypt and the dangerous Malaysians in the fray to name the other big teams.

Pakistan, India, Egypt and Nigeria (the last minute replacement for Zimbabwe) figure in Pool `B'. In contrast, the Koreans have Ghana, Malaysia and South Africa in Pool `A'.

Fresh from the Asia Cup victory, Indian coach Rajinder Singh is keen to sustain the form and is confident that India will put up a quality performance here. He only hopes that the players are able to adjust to the new turf, which experts feel is slightly bumpy and very quick, since no matches were played on it at all.

On present form, Pakistan and India should book the top two berths from Pool `B' unless Egypt pulls off a miracle. Captain Dilip Tirkey dismissed the pressure factor and said that the India-Pakistan match would be just another encounter which his team would love to win.

With his touch of assurance in the deep, Tirkey is confident the forward-line of Gagan, Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh, Sandeep Michael and Arjun Hallapa would have the liberty to attack and create openings. In Gagan Ajit Singh, India has a forward who can make a mockery of the best of the defences. He is one player whose skills and exuberance can lift the drooping morale of a team.

Rajinder hinted at trying out some new variations in the penalty-corner conversion in the absence of Jugraj Singh. "We did have some problem areas even when we won the Asia Cup and tried to plug the loopholes," he said. For the record, India takes on Egypt on Thursday, Nigeria on October 25 and Pakistan on October 27 - all under floodlights.

Pakistan manager Hassan Sardar said that they had come here to win despite inadequate preparations and fielding a second string team as the seniors wanted rest ahead of the Azlan Shah Trophy and the Athens Olympics qualifying tournament in Spain.

He was quick to mention that the Games would be much more tougher than the recent Asia Cup. Pakistan might also miss the experience of goalkeeper Ahmed Alam and forward Shabbir Hussain.

In Asian hockey, Korea always seems to be sidelined, as the debate constantly hovers around India and Pakistan, though it has some incredible performances to its credit. Here too, its ability to spring a surprise cannot be ruled out. Apparently, not much can be expected from Ghana.

The players could not have asked for a better ambience than the beautifully, designed hockey complex with two astro-turf grounds besides the practice venue in the same complex. All the men's matches will be played at the main venue while the other one will take care of the women's engagements.

The Hyderabadis are in for a real treat as all the teams are considering the Games as the preparatory campaign for next year's Athens Olympic's.

Indian women confident

Commonwealth Games gold medallist India begins its journey to the top with its confidence on a new high as it begins the campaign in the women's section against South Africa here on Thursday.

India enters the fray, which includes the Asian Games gold medallist Korea, silver medallist China and Malaysia (bronze), after a title-triumph in the tri-nation tournament in Russia.

The chief coach, M.K. Kaushik, believes that the two-month preparatory camp in Bangalore should help his team's cause. "We have a young side as quite a few seniors have quit the scene or were injured. But, I have great faith in debutants like Subhadra Pradhan, 19-year-old Jasjeet Kaur and Pushpa Pradhan and the penalty-corner expert Suman Bala," he said.

He is not overtly worried about the grouping as tough competition is expected with best teams from Asia and Africa taking part.

The groupings:

Men: Pool A: Ghana, Korea, Malaysia & South Africa.

Pool B: Egypt, India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Women: Pool A: Kazakhstan, India, Ghana, South Africa.

Pool B: China, Kenya, Korea and Nigeria.

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