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Confident India face Pakistan in semifinal

 BHUBANESWAR, Dec 12 (PTI): A cracker of a contest is on the cards when a confident India takes on a resurgent Pakistan in what promises to be a battle of attrition between the two traditional rivals at the Hero Champions Trophy hockey tournament, here tomorrow.

 Having peaked when it mattered most, both the sides will be desperate to upstage each other tomorrow to assert their supremacy over each other. The match also provides India an opportunity to avenge their defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the bronze medal match in the last edition of the elite eight-nation tournament held at Melbourne in 2012.

But going by present form and record, India definitely will enjoy an upper-hand over their neighbours.

India had been in great form and would definitely take heart from their win over Pakistan in the summit clash of the Incheon Asian Games, which also gave Sardar Singh and Co a direct entry to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In the Asian Games final, the Indians had to dig deep to eke out the win in a penalty shoot-out but come tomorrow, Sardar and Co can’t afford to leave it so late and would be aiming to settle the issue in the regulation 60 minutes.

India and Pakistan have a long history of hockey rivalry. The two nations have a record of facing each other in the first six Asian games finals. They have played in seven finals against each other out of which Pakistan has won six and India has won just one. Both nations have played each other from 1956 to 1964 in three successive Olympic Hockey finals. India won gold twice while Pakistan won once.

But the records are a thing of the past and when the two teams take the ground tomorrow, they will have only one goal, a place in the final of the Champions Trophy.

The hosts definitely have looked a better team than Pakistan in the tournament so far. India produced an inspired performance and came back from two goals down to stun world number four Belgium 4-2 in the quarterfinals yesterday.

India showed tremendous fighting spirit to upstage two higher ranked teams – the Netherlands and Belgium – in their last two matches, especially after their dismal outing in the opening two encounters.

After a jittery start, the Indians managed to plug holes in all aspects of the game yesterday and, buoyed by a packed Kalinga Stadium crowd, registered one of the finest come-from-behind victory in recent times.

Just like any Indo-Pak encounter, emotions would be high on both sides, especially India who will be playing in front of home crowds with the players are very well aware that a defeat tomorrow can jeopardise all their good showing.

The Indian team will have to keep their emotions in check and play sensible hockey, the way they played in the last two matches, to come out winners against Pakistan.

India’s High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans understandably is not taking any chances and expects a tough encounter against Pakistan tomorrow.

“I didn’t expect Pakistan to beat Holland. They were very impressive. They fought for every square centimetre of the pitch,” Oltmans said.

“We have played them so many times so the players are experienced and know how to handle their emotions.”

Pakistan, on the other hand, have nothing to lose tomorrow. After three consecutive defeats in the pool stages, they bounced back in style to surprise the Netherlands 4-2 in the quarterfinals yesterday.

And Pakistan coach Shahnaz Sheikh also made this point clear when he said it would be the Indians who will feel the pressure tomorrow.

“The pressure should be on India because they will play before the home crowd. Our target is fulfilled. We wanted to reach semifinals and managed to do that,” Sheikh said after his team’s practice session here today.

Unlike India, Pakistan haven’t played at the international level frequently in the last couple of years and the coach feels it might act as a drawback for them when it comes to fitness.

“India’s fitness has improved by leaps and bounds in the last 1-2 years. But we haven’t played as a team together for quite some time, except for the Asian Games,” Sheikh said.

“But having said that we hope to repeat our performance against the Netherlands in tomorrow’s game.”

Meanwhile in the other semifinal of the day, world champions and title holders Australia will take on Olympic champions Germany tomorrow.

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