Antwerp, June 25: Following their wins over France and Poland, the Indian hockey team will face their first real challenge when they go head-to-head against arch-rivals Pakistan in the highly anticipated Pool A match of the Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Final here on Friday. The game starts at 7.30 PM IST (Live on Star Sports 1, HD).
A confident India are upbeat after their successive wins in their first two matches of the tournament. The players have set their feet firmly on the green astro-turf and successfully implemented their strategies against their opponents.
With chief coach Paul van Ass's new team strategy of 10-on-10, India will aim to have an edge over Pakistan and look at continuing their good form.
"Pakistan is a very aggressive team and have experienced players while ours is relatively young. But I don't think that is anywhere in our minds. The team's focus is on creating penalty corners and capitalising on them, be aggressive in their D and within those few seconds score that goal," said van Ass.
While Pakistan started the tournament with a 2-1 win over Poland, they were handed a heavy 1-6 loss by reigning World Champions Australia on Wednesday.
Though both India and Pakistan look good for the quarter-finals, which begin on July 1, a win here will really solidify their position in the group.
The neighbours last met during the Champions Trophy in December 2014 at Bhubaneswar and India will be looking at settling scores this time around. That time, Pakistan came out on top by defeating India 4-3 in the semifinals and proceeding to the summit clash.
This Indian side is missing out on the likes of penalty corner specialist V.R. Raghunath, experienced forward S.V. Sunil and Kothajit Singh. However, the team hasn't allowed their absence to deter their determination and rather have proved that they are a team who are ready for any challenge.
With captain Sardar Singh leading from the front and in top form, which he proved through his skilful play, the Walmiki brothers - Yuvraj and Devindar - are a force to reckon with in the opponents D. With goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh also getting stronger under the bar with each passing match, Pakistan will have an uphill task this time around to beat India.
"The key will be our defence and the responsibility of defending starts from the forwards where the job will be to take the ball back and counter attack. This also clearly means, do not allow them easy access to our D and ensure that we keep them at bay. We have been working on the 10-on-10 strategy for the upcoming two matches and will show us where exactly we stand in our strategies," said Sardar.