Sultan Azlan Shah Cup - Preview: Rusty India face weakened Pakistan in search of bronze

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Image Courtesy: © Hockey India

Sultan Azlan Shah Cup - Preview: Rusty India face weakened Pakistan in search of bronze

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Arun S Kaimal


Although it is not as celebrated as the cricketing version, the rivalry between the countries will once again take the centre stage on Tuesday, when India and Pakistan clash in the 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament at Ipoh, Malaysia.

India, ranked seventh in the world, arrived in Malaysia with a young squad giving rest to their stars like P R Sreejesh and V R Raghunath with the Olympics just five months away. Playing a tournament after a gap of almost five months showed in the initial match as India scraped past Japan 2-1. The inexperience of the youngsters and the absence of Sreejesh, who has been a wall for India in the goal, showed once again as India suffered a humiliating 1-5 loss against World champions Australia before edging past Canada in their last match.

The five-time winners, who finished with a bronze in the last edition of the tournament, have a chance of repeating the same feat once again, if they can defeat their arch-rivals Pakistan. With six points from three matches, India are third in the table with matches against Pakistan, New Zealand and hosts Malaysia remaining.

On the other hand, Pakistan are ranked three places below India in the rankings and are lying sixth in the seven-team table after just three points from three matches. Although, Pakistan started with a 3-1 win against Canada, they found it tough against the teams from down under losing to New Zealand and Australia in one-sided encounters. The once-mighty Pakistan team have been on a downward slide for the past three years and have, in fact, failed to make it to the Olympics this time around.

But, as it is with India-Pakistan encounters, everything else takes a back seat when the two arch-rivals play. The last time the two teams met was in the 2016 South Asian Games, where Pakistan won gold defeating a second-string Indian team, first in the group stage and then in the final. An encounter between the two in an FIH event came a year back in the 2014-15 HWL Semi-Finals at Antwerp, where both sides shared points after playing out a 2-2 draw.

Pakistan also lead the overall head-to-head record by a big margin (82-52), but records and recent results won't matter much when the encounter begins. The game will also give the young Indian squad a great opportunity to play under pressure and a chance to place their name for a podium finish. For Pakistan, a defeat against India is likely to end their hopes in the tournament.  

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