After losing out to Australia in their only defeat in the pool matches, the Indian men's team is wary of a fast-improving Malaysia as they lock horns in the quarter-finals of the Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Final at the Brasschaat Municipal Park here on Wednesday.
India’s last encounter against their Asian rivals was in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year where the latter won in a riveting encounter courtesy of a 3-2 scoreline. And India chief coach Paul van Ass is aware of the Malaysian threat.
"Malaysia is a good team and they are among the top four teams of Asia, so there is no point of taking the match easily. We are focussing on match by match and preparing for each team differently. We will stick on to our 10-on-10 strategy and attack with full force," the Dutchman, who guided his country to bronze medals in 2012 Olympics and 2014 World Cup, said in a release on Tuesday.
"Malaysia recently defeated India, so we have to perform better than them. Our players are in good shape and in-form, they just have to continue their performance. We are looking forward to the match and determined to reach the semi-final," van Ass added.
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The Indian team in the previous clashes performed impressively with its 10-on-10 strategy, which has yielded positive results till now. After winning the first two matches against France and Poland, the team drew 2-2 with Pakistan in a nail-biting encounter next.
World No.9 India tasted their only defeat against reigning world champions Australia, who are riding high on their brilliant form and have clinched all three league matches in Pool A.
The Indian attack in the quarter-finals will be heavily dependent on forward Ramandeep Singh, who has thus far showcased his classy finishing skills in the 10-nation tournament. With four field goals, he is among top four goal-scorers and the opposition on Wednesday cannot afford to ignore his moves during the match.
India’s midfield, led by skipper Sardar Singh, has shown a new zeal as it has effectively kept ball possession and created well-knit opportunities for the team to score.
Gurbaj Singh, who played his 200th international match on June 28 during the league match against Australia, along with Chinglensana Singh, Dharamvir Singh and young Lalit Upadhyay have been playing a important role in defending as well as feeding the attackers.
India also need to restrict world No.12 Malaysia’s three best players Muhammad Shamsul, Razie Rahim and Izwan Firdaus Ahmad Tajuddin, who have a history of surprising their opponents and have scored two goals each in their Pool B league matches.
Riding on the trio, Malaysia outplayed China and stunned Ireland to finish at third position in their pool.
"The quarter-final will be tough and all the teams will enhance their strategies to qualify for semi-finals. Our plans for tomorrow are ready and now we have to implement them on the field," Sardar said.
"We are not taking Malaysia lightly as they have the ability to perform at the highest level. We will play as per our strategies of all attacks and try to score maximum goals in the first two quarters to put them under pressure," the 28-year-old added.
In the other quarter-finals, Australia will face Ireland, Great Britain will take on Pakistan and hosts Belgium face France.