Jakarta: Going by the performance so far, defending champion India starts as overwhelming favourites when they take on Malaysia in their semi-final clash in men’s hockey competition at the Asian Games here on Thursday.
The three-time gold medallists and World No 3, India has stamped their dominance pumping in 76 goals in their five pool matches to top the group.
This included a runaway 8-0 bashing of Japan and a 5-3 win over four-time champions South Korea, albeit with some tense moments.
However, not much should be read in the annihilation of minnows Indonesia, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka as the business end commences now.
Even though India have lost to Malaysia a few times in the recent past, they have been beaten once in ten encounters at the Asian Games.
That memory of the semi-final loss at Guangzhou eight years ago is still fresh in the mind of coach Harendra Singh, who then tendered his resignation. Malaysia had stunned India with a 75th minute golden goal from drag-flicker Muhammad Amin Rahim after being locked 3-3 in regulation time.
India is fully aware that their recent showing against the World No 12 Malaysians has not been encouraging having lost to them twice last year, first at the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh followed by the HWL semi-final at London. However, their last encounter was earlier this year at the Azlan Shah Cup where Sardar Singh-led an experimental squad to a 5-1 win.
While skipper and custodian Sreejesh has been a rock, the squad has a quicksilver strike potential with Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, SV Sunil and Dilpreet Singh assisted by the overlapping midfielders Amit Rohidas and youngster Vivek Sagar Prasad.
Sardar Singh, the gold medal winning captain at Incheon now playing his third Asian Games and a veteran of 317 international caps will be the principal playmaker in tandem with Manpreet Singh, while Rupinderpal Singh and Harmanpreet will shoulder the responsibility of penalty corner conversions.
The Indian onslaught prowess could be blunted by the very experienced 38-year-old Malaysian goalkeeper Subramiam Kumar, starring in his fifth Asian Games. Their squad has a wealth of experience in the form of captain Sukri Mutalib, flicker Razie Rahim, the Saari brothers Faizal and Fitri, Nabil Noor with strikers Tengku Tajuddin and Muhammad Shahril all of whom have played well over 200 internationals.
“We are prepared for the match, it is very crucial for us,” said coach Harendra Singh. “Malaysia is a very strong team and we know that, It is going to be tough”.