Jakarta: Defending champions India, who have been ruthless so far and pumped in a whopping 76 goals in the group stages, will be taking on Malaysia in the Asian Games men’s hockey semi-finals of Thursday. In the second semi-final, Pakistan will be taking on Japan.
Group toppers India have conceded just three goals in five matches and will going into the contest with their confidence sky high. “Ideally we would have liked to keep a clean slate. That was the aim of our defence but we made silly defensive errors against Republic of Korea. We have watched the videos of that match again to analyse where we must correct ourselves,” said India captain P.R. Sreejesh. The action starts at 2.30pm UAE time.
Sreejesh rated the opponents highly and asked his team to be ready for a high-octane encounter. “Malaysia 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,” revealed Sreejesh, who also felt that his team should tread carefully in the defence.
“While I feel we must continue the same tempo we have shown in our attack, we must be doubly cautious in our defending and ensure we don’t give away penalty corners, which will be critical,” he added.
Malaysia also come into the semi-finals with come comprehensive victories behind them. They thrashed Kazakhstan (16-2), Thailand (10-0), Bangladesh (7-0) and Oman (7-0). Their only loss has come against just eight-times champions Pakistan to whom they lost 1-4 to finish second in Pool B.
Though Indian strikers and drag-flickers have been ruthless in their approach in all their games and been rewarded with plenty of goals, Sreejesh seemed to rule out the possibility of a goal fest. His apprehensions have a lot to do with his opposite number S. Kumar’s presence in the Malaysian goal. Kumar has over 300 caps and, with a finals place in the offing, Sreejesh reckoned on the Malaysian stopper making things difficult for India.
“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, whose team will be looking for inspiration from their previous successful outings against Malaysia.
At the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, India had beaten Malaysia 2-1 and previously, at the Sultan Azlan Shah Tournament Ipoh, Malaysia, they beat the hosts 5-1. In the 2017 Asia Cup, India got the better of Malaysia 6-2 in the Super 4s stage followed by a 2-1 victory in the final to lift the Asia Cup.