Johor Bahru: India would rely on in-form forwards to rip through a strong Malaysian defense and secure the side a place in the finals when the two teams clash in their crucial last league match of the Sultan of Johor Cup under-21 hockey tournament in Malaysia on Friday. (Agencies)
The winner of this contest will make it to the Saturday final against Australia.
With two wins and a draw Malaysia has seven points. India, with six points, is third in the table behind Australia and Malaysia, but a win tomorrow will catapult them to the second position.
Korea also has six points with a match to go against New Zealand. But even if Korea wins, India will have a bright chance to make the final as the Koreans have conceded two goals more than India. All the teams play their last pool match on Friday.
"Our strength is fast moving forwards, who have delivered so far. I hope they will continue to score tomorrow as well," said Mukesh Kumar, Indian chief coach.
"My concern is their body language. They should exude confidence. Once confidence is there, things fall in line," he explained.
Mukesh has every reason to rely on forwards as they have risen to the occasion so far. Striker Malak Singh has been a thorn in the flesh of opposition defences.
The Haryana-forward proved his worth with opportunistic goals and dashing break-ins, netting five goals so far.
Winger Ramandeep Singh, whose brace of goals nearly floored mighty Australia, is another impact scorer. M Gunasekar and Satbir Singh too do not waste chances.
"We had a good drag flicker in Gajinder Singh. He could not come here due to injury. It affected our penalty corner department. We haven't scored many goals through penalty corners, though we tried with Harpreet Singh, Amid Rohidas and Sampath Kumar. The result is mixed," he said.
"Malaysia are always at their best on home grounds, we should be careful against them," Mukesh elaborated.
Another coach with the team, Lajrus Barla, who looks after defence, feels their defenders will come under severe scrutiny on Friday.
"Malaysians have been training together for over two years, have travelled many countries and have enough experience. Theirs is a balanced side. Our defenders are good, but have to prove their worth again tomorrow," the Olympian said.
"As far as we are concerned, tomorrow is a final for us, because whoever wins makes it to the final, and our defence will be stretched. We are not conceding many penalty corners,
and we should keep our cool, and not concede any of them tomorrow as well," he stressed.
"Our second goalkeeper Harmanpreet Singh is improving match by match. Much will depend on his form tomorrow," Barla said.
On his part, Harmanpreet exuded confidence. "Malaysians are good at penalty corners. If we can manage them, we can ensure our victory".
Captain Devinder Walmiki is also confident of a good show against the hosts.
"They are a balanced side but we are also improving. With a controlled midfield play, we should face them in all departments," he said.
Malaysian coach Dharmaraj Abdullah said crowd support would be a crucial factor.
"India are a good side. It will be a good match. I look forward to a crowd that supports us. When the crowd cheers, our boys run faster than what they are otherwise used to. If we are able to put it across India, that will be fitting as we have worked hard," he said.
Johor Bahru: India would rely on in-form forwards to rip through a strong Malaysian defense and secure the side a place in the finals when the two teams clash in their crucial last league match of the Sultan of Johor Cup under-21 hockey tournament in Malaysia on Friday.