The showstopper encounter between Asian Games champions India and Champions Trophy silver medallists Pakistan has raised the stakes in the diamond city of Antwerp. The misfiring Indians enjoy the luxury of having already qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games, but Pakistan has promised to go all-out into attack in Friday’s sub-continental contest.

For both India and Pakistan, a victory in this preliminary pool match will pave the way for a favourable quarterfinal draw. Tomorrow’s match is also the first encounter between the sub-continental hockey rivals since their clash in the tense, incident-marred Champions Trophy semifinals in Bhubaneswar, where some gestures during onfield celebrations by the victorious Pakistani team lead to a few suspensions.

There remains some palpable tension between the teams over that incident, but on Friday both the side would seek to showcase the attractive sub-continental style of hockey. Going into the contest, both India and Pakistan’s strikers have been erratic and wayward.

India has won both their first two outings against France (3-2) and Poland (3-0) but Paul van Ass’ wards were far from impressive. Pakistan, on the other hand, managed to beat Poland 2-1 before being outplayed by Australia. For India’s new chief coach Paul van Ass to be a part of an Indo-Pak contest comes as a completely new experience.

Van Ass says he had only seen the current Pakistan team on television before the ongoing tournament, but insisted India were focused on their own game. Several injuries to some key players and the new coach’s plan to test juniors is the reason India are not here in full strength. In comparison, Pakistan have a well-settled side, which is here in full strength.

For Pakistan this tournament is the last opportunity to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, having lost the Asian Games gold medal to India, who thus became the first team to secure passage to next year’s quadrennial event.

Three Olympic qualification spots are available to the top-placed teams from this competition, but some sides ranked slightly lower may also get a chance if any of the countries also feature in the five places available to winners of continental tournaments.

Pakistan have played at every Olympics since their first appearance in 1948, but they failed to feature in the 2014 World Cup, an event that they have won more times than any other country.

The top three teams in this tournament will also advance to the World League Final in India in December.

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