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India take on confident Malaysia in must-win game

Stung by the shocking draw against debutants Egypt in the opening match of the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament, India will have to pull up their socks and come out all guns blazing against in-form Malaysia in their second round robin encounter on Wednesday.

India, eight-time Olympic champions, put up a shoddy performance against newcomers Egypt, conceding a last-gasp goal to settle for a 2-2 on Sunday.

On the contrary, the hosts’ confidence is sky high after registering back-to-back victories in the five-nation tournament.

Malaysia scampered past Pakistan 3-2 on Sunday before outplaying Egypt 4-1 on Monday and a win on Wednesday will seal their place in the final, leaving India, New Zealand and Egypt to slug out for the other spot.

Pakistan, the other team in the event, has already been ruled out of the summit clash after they slumped to their second successive defeat on Monday.

And India could end up joining Pakistan on the sidelines if they don’t win Wednesday’s all-important tie as even a draw won’t help their cause because New Zealand will take on lowly Egypt in the other match.

A win for the Kiwis and defeat or draw for India on Wednesday, will more or less take the last year’s runner-up out of the summit clash equation and coach Harendra Singh admitted it was a desperate situation.

“We will continue to play attacking hockey and go for the win. A win tomorrow can only keep us in the fray for the final. We can’t think about any other option,” he said on the eve of the all-important match.

“India has to show their character. We will play simple hockey tomorrow but with confidence,” he added.

Although India (10th) are five spots ahead of Malaysia in world rankings, the Sandeep Singh-led side will have to produce a disciplined performance to crack the hosts, who will be hoping to carry on their winning streak before the home crowd.

Most importantly, pressure would be on veteran Dilip Tirkey-led Indian defence which, in the recent past, has faltered time and again in the dying stages of the match, but Harendra said although it’s a matter of worry, he is more concerned about India’s low rate of penalty corner conversion.

“Definitely it (penalty corner conversion) is a worrying factor. That’s an area we will have address as we have two world class penalty corner specialists in Sandeep and Dilip (Tirkey) in our team.

“Against Malaysia, we have to utilise the penalty corners because they are known for man-to-man marking,” the coach said.

Out of five penalty corners India earned in their match against Egypt the other day, Sandeep converted only one.

To add to their woes, the Indian forwards will have to improve their finishing quality, which too was a major concern against Egypt as they squandered numerous goal scoring opportunities.

Meanwhile, Harendra has hinted of drafting in uncapped Sarwanjeet Singh into the playing eleven on Wednesday in place of either VS Vinay or experienced mid-fielder Ignace Tirkey.

“Sarwanjeet might play tomorrow as per my tactics of giving one player from the bench a chance in every match,” he said.

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