After a series of spectacular matches and surprising results including table-turning in quarter-finals, Hero Hockey Champions Trophy 2014 is will have two big games. First is when World Champions Australia will take on London Olympic Gold Medalists Germany in 1st semi-final at Kalinga Hockey Stadium in Bhubaneswar (Schedule here). In the second semi-final, two Asian Giants and arch-rivals India and Pakistan will face each other for a place in final, which always have been mother of all the clashes and kind of final before Final.
Both the teams, India and Pakistan, know the intensity of the clash and importance of the result, which will be played between a jam-packed stadium. The hockey fans at Kalinga Stadium were desperately seen trying to get hold of tickets for the semi-finals. Thousands of fans had to go back home empty hands and disappointed as they could not get the tickets.
It is not easy to predict the result of this most-sought match as both India and Pakistan started the tournament with defeats and gained momentum in their last matches. Host India lost their first match by 0-1 against the nine-time FIH Champions Trophy champions Germany, followed by 2-4 defeat against Argentina. Then India defeated the Netherlands by 3-2 in their last Pool B match and came from 0-2 behind to Belgium 4-2 in the quarter-final.
The Asian Games Silver Medalists and lowest ranked team in the tournament at 11th place in world, Pakistan, lost all their Pool A matches against Belgium (1-2), England (2-8) and Australia (0-3) respectively. The Pakistan team showed character in quarter-final to defeat the European Giants the Netherlands by impressive 4-2 result.
India and Pakistan have clashed 17 times in the FIH Champions Trophy and Pakistan won eleven matches while India tasted victory in six matches. At the most recent FIH Champions Trophy in 2012 in Melbourne, the Green-shirts also succeeded in winning their quarter-final and went on to win bronze by defeating India 3-2 in the medal match. The most recent clash, India held their nerve as they defeated Pakistan in shoot-out after having 1-1 in regulation time to win the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and booked a place in Rio 2016 Olympics.
Showcasing a rousing performance in the quarter-finals, Australia, looking for sixth consecutive title of the FIH Champions Trophy, are all set to face the 2012 Olympic champions Germany. World Champions Australia had a disappointing start in the tournament as they lost their first match to England by 1-3 and held by Belgium for 4-4 draw. The Kookaburras rounded up pool stage with a 3-0 win against Pakistan. On the other hand, Germany kicked-off the tournament on winning note against hosts India but lost the Netherlands and Argentina in next two pool matches. The Germans showed their character by defeating Pool A toppers England by 2-0 in the quarter-final to set-up the semi-finals against Australia.
Speaking on the most-awaited match tomorrow, Indian Vice-Captain PR Sreejesh said, “The semi-final match with Pakistan is going to be very interesting. We are still good in defence and Penalty Corner and our strategies will be different from before. Pakistan is also playing well and they are also skilful. The Indian – Pakistan match is similar like other matches but the emotional factor is going to make so much different. The team is set and ready for the match and our focus is to win the semi-final match.”
Commenting on tomorrow’s face-off against Pakistan, High Performance Director of India and coach for the tournament, Roelant Oltmans said, “We are not in pressure at all for the Pakistan match, the game will be as well as like other matches. We don’t see any weak points of Pakistan till now. I am impressed with the performance of our team and the performance will continue to the next matches.”
Talking post the practice session Pakistan Coach Sheikh Shahnaz said, “Tomorrow’s match will be the most-sought-match of the tournament. We are working hard and surely play for the win. However, having played many international matches in the past couple of years, India’s fitness has improved immensely but Pakistan lacks in this field because we have not played any international tournament for almost a year and a half. There is no pressure on the team as our main aim was to finish amongst the top four and we have been successful in doing so. I would like to wish both teams good luck for the upcoming match.”
Speaking on tomorrow’s match, Pakistan Captain Muhammad Imran said, “India versus Pakistan in the semi-final is nothing less than the finals for us as it has been very long since the time these two teams met in an international tournament like this one. A tough fight is witnessed whenever these two teams have met in the past and this semi-final will prove to be a terrific one. We have done our homework for this match and we are looking forward to the high-intense semi-final clash tomorrow.”