New Delhi: India are clear favourites going into the final of the Asia Cup against South Korea on Sunday. They have won four matches in a row, are the only unbeaten team of the tournament and got the better of the Koreans in the league stage. But those are only stats and the final is a different ball game altogether. Plus, South Korea are the defending champions.
India entered the tournament as a young, inexperienced team asked not only to win the Asia Cup but also qualify for the World Cup. And if they manage to beat the Koreans on Sunday, they will kill those two birds with one stone (read details). But it won't be easy against arguably the best team in Asia.
South Korea will approach this final with a two-point agenda: to defend their title and to avenge the loss to India. But they will be up against an in-form Indian team that is high on confidence and hungry for success. IBNLive.com talked to former India captain and hockey legend Pargat Singh and Arjun Halappa, also a former captain and current national selector, who did a SWOT analysis of the two teams vying for the Asian crown.
India are in the final. Where do you rate this performance?
PS: We are playing better as a team in this tournament. In the subcontinent we are undoubtedly among the top three teams. But if we talk about this Asia Cup in particular, I think we have played the best so far. But the final is a pressure match on a new day.
AH: It's not an achievement yet, still one match to go. Good that we are in the final, and I think the team has answered those who said 'this is an inexperienced team' and "we won't be able to qualify for the World Cup". Credit to the boys.
Have India finally sorted out their defensive woes with Rupinderpal Singh and VR Raghunath?
PS: Focusing on the current tournament, yes. But if we evaluate in the context of world hockey, they have to improve. Sometimes we start talking big too early, but the European teams are far ahead of us. Facing three top teams in Asia [South Korea, Pakistan and Malaysia], these two have done well. I am especially satisfied with their penalty-corner conversions.
AH: Rupinder and Raghu have done a great job, but I would say India are doing well as a team. Of course, the two have played a big part in taking India this far, along with [PR] Sreejesh; I don't deny that. But it's about 11 men on the field. And I'm very pleased with their field play, apart from penalty-corner conversions. Their improvement as defenders is the most encouraging part.
What should be India's approach towards Sunday's final?
PS: Every team has a different style. It all depends on how they play on the day. As I said, it's the pressure match on a new day. These days, the Koreans don't have a great forward-line. They had a few good names sometime back, but not today. So our defence should hold well. We have better forwards than them, though we are missing a few experienced players. That could be the difference in the end.
AH: I would say keep it simple. Do the simple things right and just enjoy your game now that we have almost qualified for the World Cup. The boys should take pride in the fact that they have come this far and should play the way they have been doing so far. One thing we should focus on is not conceding penalty corners. The Koreans have good flickers in their squad.
With what plans will South Korea come into the final, especially when they were beaten by India in the league phase? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
PS: The Koreans have always focused on man-to-man marking with tight defence. And I feel they will continue to follow that strategy; it won't change. They are good on counters, but then we can counter back, and as I said, we have a better forward-line in the tournament. Here we have the advantage. Their penetration is not good, but they have better speed and agility, and are good in re-tackling because of that. So I feel they will follow a fixed mechanism of man-to-man marking and tight defence.
AH: Final is a different kettle of fish than the league stage. The Koreans might come with a different plan [after losing to India 2-0 in a pool game]. We have done well on counters and penalty corners. So they might plan accordingly. They would have analysed our videos. Their build-up is great and as I said they have good flickers in the team. So India should not concede penalty corners.