The clash between India and Pakistan in the last league match of the Asian Champions Trophy, for obvious reasons, will be the highlight of the tournament.
Despite sitting pretty at the top at the moment, India will be hoping to keep the momentum against the arch-rival as the teams continue fine-tuning their plans for the Asian Games.
India is unbeaten so far with three wins and a draw while Pakistan managed its first win in the competition against China to stay in the race for the semifinal.
Their contrasting outings put the host as the favourite but it will need to avoid complacency and errors to remain on top. It will also have to guard against a desperate Pakistan going all out with a semifinal spot at stake.
Recent history is overwhelmingly in India’s favour.
A major tournament win for Pakistan came way back in 2014 at the now-defunct Champions Trophy. The last time it won against India was at the 2016 South-Asian Games, where India sent a developmental side with little expectations.
Since then, in 14 meetings, India has won 12 times with two draws, with the second of the two draws played at the Asia Cup 2022. Though the numbers favour India, rankings, performances and form will matter little when the two teams face off.
With a largely inexperienced side that the Pakistan team management has already declared will be persisted with at the Asian Games, every game here is a learning process and the team has shown improved results over the past four matches.
The mind games have already kicked off with coach Mohammed Saqlain claiming that they are aware of India’s weaknesses and Rehan Butt stating that pressure will be on India and his team has nothing to lose.
In contrast, the Indians have refrained from playing up the encounter, insisting on taking it as just another game and with eyes on bigger targets.
That said, the likes of Abdul Rana and Abdul Hannan Shahid can be dangerous for the Indian defence while Umar Bhutta in the middle and Mohammad Sufiyan at the back have been impressive.
Pakistan have also made a habit of starting aggressively and creating chances early on and the Indian defence will have to be alert while not conceding PCs.
India’s biggest strengths will be superior fitness and experience. Most importantly, the players will have to stick to their structure and play with their heads and not hearts to ensure superiority on paper is translated to dominance on the ground.
Against Korea, the defence was often caught unaware and the strikers were wayward. Discipline is another area India needs to tighten with players being penalised at key moments.
With three teams in the race for two semifinal spots, a lot will depend on the other games – Japan takes on China and Malaysia face Korea -- and with favourable results, even a draw might be enough for Pakistan to scrape through and set up a potential semifinal clash again with India.
- ISL 2023-24: Chennaiyin hopes to break duck at home against newly-promoted Punjab
- Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Ancelotti praises ‘stupendous’ Bellingham after El Clasico double
- Neuer ‘happiest ever’ after strong Bundesliga comeback for Bayern
- La Liga 2023-24: Bellingham double allows Real to fight back and win Clasico at Barcelona
- Saudi League 2023-24: Al Nassr beats Al Fayha, Ronaldo assists Talisca brace