With a final berth at stake, the traditional rivalry between India and Pakistan will take centre stage as the two teams take on each other in the semi-finals of the Under-18 Asia Cup hockey tournament here on Thursday.
The two teams have already tasted success in the competition as India lifted the cup in 2001 and 2009 while Pakistan have also twice been part of the tournament, winning it in 2009 and finishing with Bronze in 2011.
In the this year’s tournament, the two teams have had a contrasting set of results. Pakistan defeated Chinese-Taipei 6-1 in their opener and China 6-0 in the next game. They won their final game against Hong Kong 14-0 to top the group.
India faced a tough challenge against the hosts in the opening game of the tournament but went down 5-4 in the next match against them. Brushing off that loss, they defeated Oman 11-0 to take their first points of the competition.
Indian forwards Ibungo Singh Konjengbam and Dilpreet Singh have been in sparkling form in the tournament with four goals each. At the back, despite the disappointment of the first game, Captain Nilam Sanjeep Xess and goalkeeper Pankaj Kumar Rajak have been standout performers.
Speaking about the encounter, India U-18 coach B.J. Kariappa said: “The traditional rivalry adds a unique flavour to the contest, but we expect that. The boys are focused on the task at hand.”
“Pakistan have been prolific in front of goal, so obviously we will need to tighten up our defensive structure in the game. On the other hand, I don’t think they have had to face an attacking side like ours, with this depth of talent yet, so it will be a challenge for them too,” he added.