Azlan Shah Cup: India faces archrival Pakistan

A win will see India make a strong case to enter the medal rounds, while a loss will more or less knock Pakistan out of contention.

Skipper Sardar Singh will be India's lynchpin against Pakistan.   -  Getty Images

With medal hopes hanging in the balance, India’s hockey team will take on traditional rival Pakistan in a Sultan Azlan Shah Cup encounter here on Tuesday.

Five-time winner India finished with a bronze last year and has already won two of its three matches in the tournament, beating Japan (2-1) and Canada (3-1).

India has six points — two more than fourth-placed Canada. Australia is on top of the table with three wins from as many games, while New Zealand is second with eight points from four matches. The top two teams will automatically qualify for the final, while the third and fourth ranked teams will play the bronze medal match after the conclusion of the round-robin competition.

INDIA SCRATCHY SO FAR

However, India has not performed well. It has been scrappy and scratchy. The chinks in its defence were fully exposed by world champion Australia, which scored five times in their previous match.

Head coach Roelant Oltmans has a young team which hasn’t been consistent. Especially, in the absence of goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh, greenhorns Harjot Singh and Akash Chitke’s performances will cause a lot of worry to Oltmans ahead of the Pakistan clash.

Skipper Sardar Singh is probably India’s strongest point and he will have to play a crucial role if the former champion is to perform creditably in this tournament.

Wingers S. V. Sunil and Danish Mujtaba have the speed and experience to trouble almost any defence and with Sardar pulling the strings in the centre of midfield, strikers Ramandeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah should have plenty of opportunities to score.

CONVERTING PENALTY CORNERS IS INDIA’S STRENGTH

Pakistan, on the other hand, has won just one game, beating Canada 3-1 before losing to New Zealand and Australia. It is currently sixth in the standings. Pakistan hasn’t qualified for the Olympics in Rio this year, but is motivated to beat India in Malaysia.

As it is with India-Pakistan encounters, the latest edition promises fine, skilful, attractive hockey. India’s strengths lie in its penalty corner conversion. The drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh already has two goals in the tournament. Rupinder Pal Singh isn’t bad either.

A win will see India make a strong case to enter the medal rounds, while a loss will more or less knock Pakistan out of contention. In the other matches of the day, Australia will face title holder New Zealand and Canada will be up against hosts Malaysia.