Sreejesh injury a worry as India takes on resurgent Korea

India will face South Korea in the semifinals of the fourth Asian Champions Trophy on Saturday.

PR Sreejesh India goalkeeper Asian Champions Trophy

India's ace custodian PR Sreejesh is recovering from an ankle injury and is a doubtful started for the semifinal against Korea.   -  K. Murali Kumar

India is hopeful of producing the magic to surmount the challenge from resurgent South Korea in the semifinals of the fourth Asian Champions Trophy despite ankle injury to ace custodian PR Sreejesh.

The other worry for India is deep defender Surender Kumar's suspension.

Seeking to reclaim the title that it won in the inaugural edition in 2011, fancied India was held to a 1-1 draw by the young South Korean side, which has improved with every outing. India topped the round-robin league standings, but did not know its semifinal opponents until the end of last league encounter between the Koreans and host Malaysia.

The Koreans led by a goal until four minutes from the hooter before a penalty corner produced the Malaysian equaliser and got the home side the second place in the league standings.

"South Korea is a good side that has improved its quality throughout this tournament. We saw yesterday what they can do," said Indian coach Roelant Oltmans.

"The Korean strength lies in their defence. It will all depend on how we can break past their defence," said Oltmans, hoping his own defence would overcome the problems confronting the team.

"I think Sreejesh will be able to play. He's recovering from the ankle injury, but even if he does not play in the semifinals, Akash Chikte is a very good reserve goalkeeper," the coach said.

Oltmans praised Chikte for his fine show in the last two matches, where he was fielded for the entire duration of the games as Sreejesh was rested.

The coach said India had no choice of a semifinal opponent. "They are all strong teams. It does not matter who we play in the semifinals. When we left India for Kuantan, we saw these four teams making the semifinals," said Oltmans.

"Five minutes before the end of the last league match yesterday, my mind was preparing for a semifinal against Pakistan," said the coach, referring to the scenario of an India-Pakistan semifinal had the Koreans won the game against Malaysia.

"Now, I have to prepare for a match against South Korea. Hopefully it would not be a 1-1 draw tomorrow," said Oltmans, referring to the only match in the round-robin league that India did not win.

Oltmans said India will have to learn to play without Surender in the next two games following his suspension for a dangerous foul during the last league outing against Malaysia on Wednesday.

"In a short period of time that he has been in the national squad, Surender has acquired a certain place," said the coach. "We'll have to make some changes, but it will not affect the game-plan."

India has benefitted from the success of Rupinnder Pal Singh in conversing penalty corners in this tournament, where he is the tournament's highest scorer with 10 strikes against his name.

Three players – Pakistan's Muhaammad Aleem Bilal, Malaysian Faizal Saari and Kenta Tanaka of Japan – are tied for the next position, which is six goals behind Rupinder.

Paul Lissek, the German coach of the South Korean side, is all praise for his young team after yesterday’s match, where it gave Malaysia a fright. "We've been consistent throughout the tournament, but were unlucky not to have scored more goals," said Lissek.

"We're looking forward to taking on India. We played a fine game against them in the league fixture," Lissek said, asserting that South Korea was "capable of winning this tournament."

Host Malaysia is looking to repeat its winning show of the tournament’s opening match against defending champion Pakistan.

"Tomorrow will be different ball game than the league fixture. This is the business end of the tournament," said Malaysian coach Steven van Huizen, adding that his team was bracing for the challenge. Winners of the 2012 and 2013 titles, Pakistan started the tournament with a 2-4 loss to Malaysia, but its coach Khawaja Junaid believes that "the semifinal will be a mental battle."

"We have talented players who are showing their mettle. The result of the semifinal will depend upon conversing penalty corners, which is the strength of both teams," said Junaid.

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