Jakarta: Topping the pool with dominating wins in the league stage, defending champions India are all set for the Malaysian challenge in the hockey semi-final of the 18th Asian Games here on Thursday.
The P.R. Sreejesh-led team have made the semis as Pool A toppers after high-scoring victories against Indonesia (17-0), Hong-Kong China (26-0), Japan (8-0), South Korea (5-3) and Sri Lanka (20-0).
India have scored a record 76 total goals in the tournament thus far. Though they would have liked to keep a clean sheet, they conceded just three goals in the five matches they have played.
“Ideally we would have liked to keep a clean slate. That was the aim of our defence plan but we made silly defensive errors against South Korea. We have watched the videos of that match again to analyse where we must correct ourselves before we take on Malaysia who play very cautious hockey and we must play with high speed and control the match from the first quarter itself to put pressure on them,” captain Sreejesh said on the eve of the semi-final.
According to the experienced skipper, India must ensure they defend carefully in order to keep Malaysia from earning PCs, which is one of their strong points.
“I feel we must continue the same tempo we have shown in our attack, but we must be doubly cautious in our defending and ensure we don’t give away PCs which will be critical,” he said.
While the Indian strikers and drag-flickers have had a field day in all their matches, going at a rampaging speed to convert goals after goals, doing the same against Malaysia will not be easy with an equally experienced goalkeeper in S.Kumar guarding their post who has an awe-inspiring 300 international caps to his credit.
“Yes, scoring against an experienced player like Kumar who has been in good nick won’t be easy for our strikers but this is the challenge they must embrace and look at different variations to beat the Malaysian defence and score. We must convert every opportunity we create in the circle and ensure we work towards finishing well,” asserted Sreejesh.
India, however, will look to ride on their previous wins against the Malaysian unit.
At the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, India won 2-1 and previously played them at the Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament Ipoh, Malaysia in March where the Indian team had beaten the hosts 5-1.
At the 2017 Asia Cup in Dhaka too, India had beaten Malaysia 6-2 in the Super 4s stage followed by a narrow 2-1 victory in the final to lift the Asia Cup.
“We don’t want to go by our previous results. Each tournament is different and we just want to focus on our strengths in the semi-final on Thursday,” Sreejesh concluded.
Malaysia on the other hand, come into the semis with strong wins against Kazakhstan (16-2), Thailand (10-0), Bangladesh (7-0), Oman (7-0). They have lost just one match in the tournament thus far to Pakistan 1-4 to finish second in Pool B points table.