Traditional rivals Pakistan and India go into the final of the 8th Men’s Junior Asia Cup with great self conviction in the battle of all mothers in Asian hockey.
Both nations have reached the final of Asia’s Premier Junior tournament six times in the last 27 years and on Sunday Pakistan and India will square off once again for the fourth time.
The Pakistanis, however, have beaten their worthy neighbours in the 2008 and 1996 finals while India went home in 2004 with the gold medal. Fans here are expecting a classic encounter between the two teams – displaying speed and individual mastery which has been their poignant brand in decades.
“A Pakistan-India final draws the adrenaline and fans can expect to good and entertaining match,” said Pakistan head coach Tahir Zaman, who played in the 1992 Olympics.
“We had a tough match against Korea in the semi-finals and pulled through in penalty shootout. India is playing very well here and we look forward to some great hockey. We have the pedigree and character to take on India and achieve our target of winning here.”
The Pakistanis will be deeply rooted on the services of team captain Ahmad Shakeel Butt and forward Muhammad Dilber who played major roles in the win over the Koreans once again. The duos are beacons of hope of a Pakistan victory.
Tahir’s Indian counterpart, Harendra Singh, is far more optimistic and welcomes Pakistan’s entry into the final.
“Congratulations to Pakistan for reaching the final. I am hoping my boys will rise to the occasion and put up a great performance against Pakistan,” said Harendra, adding that the last time the two nations met was at the Sultan of Johor Cup precisely one month ago. India outclassed Pakistan 6-1 in the absence of Ahmad Shakeel and several other players.
Pakistan and India stormed into the final in contrasting fashions. India had a relatively less strenuous semi-finals match against Japan, clobbering their East Asia opponents 6-1 while Pakistan defeated Korea 8-7 in penalty shootout after both teams were held to a 2-2 draw.
The Koreans led 2-1 until Ahmad Shakeel’s penalty corner goal with just 55 seconds remaining to take Pakistan into penalty shootout.
Japan and Korea battle for third placing while in classification matches, defending champions Malaysia takes on Bangladesh in the 5-6th playoff and Oman entertains China in the 7-8th classification match.
The Koreans, who emerged champions in the 2000 Kuala Lumpur edition of the tournament by defeating India, and finished third in 1992 and 2004 respectively, are still nursing their injured ego and may want to end their foray here with a bronze medal once again.