Top-ranked India will look to live up to their reputation as they face a tricky South Korea in the semi-finals of the Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament on Saturday.
India remained unbeaten in the round-robin stage which they topped with 13 points. They have conceded a mere six goals in the tournament so far, and have scored 25 in their five matches so far.
The world No.6 had dropped points only once in the round-robin stage — against their semi-final opponents South Korea and that could be on India’s mind when they take the field at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium.
South Korea in comparison finished fourth in the group stages, after conceding a last-minute goal to Malaysia in the their final game.
The South Koreans, who are ranked 11th in the world, have scored 11 goals in the competition so far — the second lowest of any team in the competition and the lowest of any of the semi finalists.
In the earlier match between the two teams, however, former Asian champions South Korea showed a lot of quality. They scored against an over-confident India, whose defence was playing high. After they conceded the equaliser and India mounted a barrage of attacks, the South Koreans defended strongly.
Fully aware of the task his team awaits, India chief coach Roelant Oltmans said: “Korea have an extremely well-drilled and organised defensive structure, and they rely on that in their games. We already have experience of seeing how suffocating their play can be, and it is a challenge for us.”
“We will have to be more clinical in the final third against them and have shown that we can be so in our games so far. It should be a good encounter.”
For India, drag-flick expert Rupinder Pal Singh has been in imperious form, scoring 10 goals so far in the tournament. The power of the Punjab set-piece specialist has been too hot to handle for the teams and Oltmans will hope that he keeps scoring.
In defence too, Rupinder will be extremely important as a central defender, and his defensive pairing with Birendra Lakra and Kothajit Singh will be tested against the nimble-footed Koreans.
In a big boost for India, captain P.R. Sreejesh will be back in goal post after missing the last two round-robin games due to an ankle injury.
The midfield will be led by former captain Sardar Singh. The 30-year-old has been average and looked out of touch so far. Right midfielder S.K. Uthappa has been playing well, perfectly transforming defence to attack while helping the forwards making the circle penetrations.
The focus will also be on Ramandeep Singh, who has stepped up his game in the absence of senior striker S.V. Sunil. He, along with the likes of Akashdeep, Nikkin and Lalit Upadhyay will not only have roles of scoring field goals but also earning penalty corners for the side.
In the other semi-final, Pakistan will face hosts Malaysia.