Pakistani players and officials have been told to keep their emotions in check when they face- off with arch-rivals India in the Asian Champions Trophy match at Kuantan in Malaysia on Sunday.
“Given the existing tensions between the two countries at every level we have asked our players to not only avoid statements on the match but also keep calm and cool no matter what the result of the match,” a top official of Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) said.
The official said that after the Champions Trophy semi-final fiasco in December 2014, the PHF didn’t want more tensions with the Indian hockey board.
India captain P R Sreejesh is keen that his players play it cool when the Asian Champions Trophy’s key encounter.
Seeking to cool the nerves of his players, Sreejesh says the Indian team have set sights on winning the Asian Champions Trophy title and the preliminary league fixture against Pakistan is just one of those games.
“Pressure could build up on the players from back home, so I have advised the players to focus on the match here and try to stay away even from the social media,” Sreejesh had said ahead of the tournament as he downplayed the recent political tension between the two countries.
However, Sreejesh had made a contrasting comment following the Uri terror attack in September.
“India-Pakistan match brings a lot of excitement to the table. We want to give hundred per cent. We don’t want to disappoint our soldiers by losing, especially when they sacrifice their lives in the exchange of fire at the borders,” Sreejesh had said back then.
Pakistan came into this tournament as the defending champions, but suffered a shock 2-4 defeat by hosts Malaysia in the opening fixture yesterday, while India launched their campaign with a rousing 10-2 victory over Japan.
India had won the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy in 2011 by defeating Pakistan in the final. Pakistan reversed the result in the title encounter the following year.
Pakistan retained the title by defeating Japan in the final in 2013, when India sent their under-21 team and finished fifth. For the next two years, this tournament was scrapped from the international fixtures.
Sreejesh played a key role when India dethroned Pakistan as the Asian Games hockey champions at Incheon in 2014. That loss to India in the Asian Games final led to Pakistan’s failure to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Coming in the wake of Pakistan having missed a place in the 2014 World Cup lineup for the first time, it has been a frustrating period for Pakistan hockey.
Pakistan hockey team coach Khawaja Junaid says Sunday’s encounter against India will be the showpiece match of the Asian Champions Trophy and his side will provide an exhibition of attacking sub-continental hockey.
“An India-Pakistan hockey match is always a game of emotions,” said Junaid, asserting that these popular encounters “showcase skills that attracts millions of spectators to the sport.”