India-Pakistan Hockey Match In Asian Champions Trophy
The Indian national hockey team players are back from a much-deserved break after exhausting their batteries at Rio de Janeiro. 2016 is about to end and the Asian Champions Trophy is one of the few tournaments India will be playing. The fourth edition of this event features top six Asian hockey nations – India, Pakistan, China, Japan, South Korea and hosts Malaysia. India won the inaugural edition in 2011, while Pakistan has been the most consistent teams winning the next two years. In 2014 and 2015 the tournament was not held because of International Hockey Federation changing the parameters for Olympic qualification.
India will be facing Japan in the first match but the clash against Pakistan will be the toughest for the PR Sreejesh-led side. Because whenever the two sides have met in the last few years, it was more than a contest between a hockey stick and ball. As far as the Indians and Pakistans go, there is very little chance of them watching this match as a game of hockey. It will be more of a border rivalry, especially after what happened in Uri.
A group of heavily armed terrorists attacked the town of Uri in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and killed 19 soldiers. Although no group has till now claimed responsibility for the attack so far but Jaish-e-Mohammed is suspected to carry out the deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in the last couple of decades. Exactly a month later as India is prepared to take on their neighbors, stakes will be particularly high, after the Indian captain has vowed that his team will give his heart and soul to beat Pakistan Kuantan. On top of that, being a round-robin tournament, a defeat against Pakistan would make things tricky for coach Roelant Oltmans. So this match is of immense significance not because a loss can knock India out, but also because matches between the two countries have been so rare in recent years.
Any sporting encounter between India and Pakistan usually turns out to be a high-tension affair. Two years back, the Men in Green gesticulated and made ugly signs towards fans after winning the semi-final of the Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium. A delightful display by the Indians at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup ensured a 5-1 rout of Pakistan. Pakistan holds an edge when it comes to the ACT in terms of head to head. Both have clashed five times with India winning once, drawing twice, and losing twice. PR Sreejesh, who pulled off two stunning saves in the penalty shoot-out to secure a 4-2 win against our neighbours in the 2014 Asian Games final has said his team would not disappoint the soldiers by losing against Pakistan after the recent attack.
“The India-Pakistan match brings a lot of excitement to the table. We want to give hundred percent. We don’t want to disappoint our soldiers by losing, especially when they sacrifice their lives in the exchange of fire at the borders,” he said about a month back. But more importantly, players on either side will try to control their emotions irrespective of a win or defeat. But will that happen? Without three star players in SV Sunil, Manpreet Singh and VR Raghunath, the Indian team with a mix of youngsters and senior players will eye their second Asian Champions Trophy title starting today. India’s opening tie, which happens to be the second match of the competition, pits them against Japan on Thursday. Currently, Japan is ranked ten places below Roelant Oltman’s team.
India will play their second match against Korea, the second best team in the tournament. With a day’s gap in between, they will be raring to have a go at their opponent when the fresh legs take the field on Saturday. The next clash against Pakistan promises to be the mightiest challenge for India. The recent form in Rio Olympics is a clear indicator that Rupinder Pal Singh, Sardar Singh, and the senior members of the team cannot afford complacency under any circumstances.
Malaysia will be hoping to get rid of the ‘minnows’ tag with some brilliant hockey in front of the home crowd against India on Wednesday but they are not expected to get the better of the sixth-ranked team in the world. The last clash against China is expected to be a cakewalk. Whether defender Birendra Lakra’s return or inclusion of young Mandeep Singh changes India’s fortune in this edition of the Asian Champions Trophy is something all fans will be eager to find out. But the players know nothing less than the title will be deemed as an achievement.