NEW DELHI - Their dreams of a podium finish shattered, Pakistan would be desperate to redeem some pride when they take on arch-rivals India in what promises to be a cracker of a contest in the 9th-10th place classification match at the Junior Men's Hockey World Cup Saturday.
Pakistan and India crashed out of the knock-out stage of the ongoing event after finishing third in their respective pools. Both the sub-continental rivals have had similar outings in the tournament so far, having finished their pool engagements with four points apiece with one win, one loss and one drawn result.
And come tomorrow, it will be a battle between two equally-matched outfits which have a history of fierce rivalry on the ground. After a disappointing campaign in the pool stages, India and Pakistan registered comfortable victories in their 9-12th place classification games to set up a mouth-watering clash against each other at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
While India got the better of Argentina 4-2 last night, Pakistan thrashed South Africa 4-0 earlier in the day. Being the hosts, the Indians had high expectations from the tournament but their hopes fizzled out after Korea held them to a 3-3 draw in their must-win last pool match.
But the Indian colts now have a very good chance to bring smiles back on the faces of the country's hockey fans as a win against traditional rivals Pakistan in any sport is looked upon as a big achievement. For the sports loving fans of both the nations, any Indo-Pak rivalry is always considered special and tomorrow's match is no different.
But India's national coach Baljit Singh Saini refused to give too much significance to the high-profile encounter and said the hosts were approaching the match as just another game.
"India-Pakistan encounters may be special for spectators and media but not for us. We can't treat it as a special match because if we do so there are chances of committing mistakes. We will take it as just another game," Saini said. "But I must admit pressure would be there on the boys before the match but once they take the field it is like just another game."
With a top-eight finish already out of the reckoning, Saini said India will do their best to finish as high as possible in the 16-team event. "We had high expectations from this tournament but now we are playing for pride. We are definitely disappointed that we couldn't finish on top eight. But the good thing to take from this tournament is that we lost only to one world class team so far," he said.
"We now would be playing to prove that we can bet top teams of the world."
Conceding soft goals and missed chances has been the story so far for India in this tournament. What has hurt India the most in the tournament is the performance of its backline. The Indian defence looked fragile when put under pressure and has been guilty of conceding soft goals so far in the event. "In the pool stages, we conceded goals in the first 10 minutes and that disturbed our gameplan. The boys are young and they will learn with experience," Saini said.
And come tomorrow it will be a test of character for the Manpreet Singh-led side to get its act together. India boast of a strong forwardline in Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Malak Singh and Talwinder Singh. Ramandeep, who secured the highest bid of USD 81000 (approx Rs 50 lakh) from Uttar Pradesh Wizards during a closed-bid auction for the second season of the Hockey India League (HIL), finally proved his worth last night by scoring two brilliant field goals against Argentina.
But just when it seemed he has found his lost touch, a freak shoulder injury in the dying stages of the match against Argentina has cast a doubt on his availability in tomorrow's game against Pakistan. "We still don' know the extent of Ramandeep's injury. It seems he did not dislocate his shoulder but he is in immense pain. We can take a call on him only after assessing his medical reports," Saini said.