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“We Are Aware Of India’s Weak Areas”: Pakistan Men’s Hockey Team Head Coach Ahead of Asian Champions Trophy Clash

Pakistan are aware of India’s weak areas and they have to play smart hockey against the home side, head coach Muhammad Saqlain said on Monday ahead of a potentially high-voltage clash between the arch-rivals in the Asian Champions Trophy here. India and Pakistan face each other in their last round-robin league match on Wednesday. “Harmanpreet Singh and other centre forwards are some of the best players in the world. We are aware of their weakness as well, but we have to be smart against them,” Saqlain told PTI on Monday. Pakistan managed a narrow 2-1 win over China on Monday to stay in contention for a semifinal berth. Saqlain said he’s confident of his side making it to the final four.

“Finally, we have got the three crucial points. We created quite some chances, especially towards the initial stages of the meeting. If we keep going like this, we can surely make it to the semifinals with this young team,” he said of the win against China.

Asked about handling pressure against their arch-rivals, especially with the match being held in India, Saqlain said his players will be taught on how to get things done.

“We have a day off, so we can focus three hours before the match. The way they played their last game (vs Malaysia) is a warning sign for everyone. Although we have a young side, they are capable of handling the pressure.

“We will need to teach our young lads (about handling the crowd pressure) who are playing here for the first time. If you can close your ears and focus on the game, we surely can play good hockey. Also, if both the teams play good hockey, it would be a great achievement for Asian hockey,” he said.

Captain Umar Bhutta was not entirely impressed with his side’s finishing abilities against China. He said finishing would be the most important aspect of the game if Pakistan are to come out on top against the hosts.

“Finishing is still an area where we can improve. But, it was a consecutive game for us as well as China, so it was hard for both of us. However, our boys appeared to be slightly better than them. Overall, we played better hockey and earned the crucial three points,” he said.

“The challenge would be to get a good finish (vs India). It’s just another contest in this tournament. What all the boys need to do is to execute our plans perfectly, while the coaches are already working on it.” Adding to Saqlain’s comments on handling the pressure, Bhutta said that instead of considering the Indian crowd as a pressure, enjoying the atmosphere would help his side more.

“I don’t consider having Indian crowd as a pressure. It’s more about enjoying it. When the crowd roars during a contest, even if it is for the opponent, it’s a different feeling altogether. Also, the pyrotechnics after a goal makes things even cooler. So, we will be enjoying it,” he signed off. PTI AYG PDS PDS

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