Guangzhou, Nov 19 : India are all set to cross swords with Pakistan in a high-octave men's group B clash in what is billed as the 'big moment' of the Asian Games hockey competition at the Aoti field here tomorrow, with the latter looking to avenge their three previous defeats to their arch-rivals this year.
Penalty corner experts -- Sandeep Singh of India and the recalled Sohail Abbas of Pakistan could make a difference between laurels and brickbats.
India go into the match against their South Asian rivals with their confidence high after a 9-0 thrashing of Bangladesh for their second victory in the league following a lung-opening 7-0 win over minnows Hong Kong in the first match.
More important is the fact that they had beaten Pakistan by a handsome 7-4 margin in the league stage of the Delhi Commonwealth Games only last month on the way to taking the silver medal behind champions Australia. That was the first time ever India attained medal standard in CWG history.
In two previous clashes this year, India have beaten their traditional rivals 4-1 in the March World Cup, also in Delhi, and 4-2 in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia.
And now the Rajpal Singh-led squad prepare to go into the clash with the aim of making it four-in-a-row in 2010.
But it is not just India but Pakistan also, who go into the needle clash with big wins to boost them up in the tournament.
Pakistan defeated Hong Kong 12-0 (7-0 half time) in their opening match with Abbas scoring a brace of penalty corner goals. While in their second match yesterday, Pakistan came back from 0-1 down to beat Japan 8-2 (half time 3-1) with the drag-flicker again scoring a couple.
Indian custodian Bharat Chetri needs to be at his best with his reflexes and agility to stop Abbas from gaining the upper hand.
Indian team would wish for the same to continue tomorrow as the other set-piece exponent, Dhananjay Mahadik, has drawn a blank so far.
The Indian forward line has functioned effectively in the tournament so far, especially in the second half against Bangladesh after a somewhat subdued effort in the match against Hong Kong.
Tushar Khandekar was the opportunist taking pot shots at the goal off centres and through passes and combined beautifully with Arjun Halappa and Rajpal.
The Indian midfield has not yet made its presence felt in the manner that it would have wanted to and its role would be crucial against Pakistan.
It would also be very important that the Indian deep defence keeps a close watch on Pakistan attackers Waqas Muhammad, Fareed Ahmed and Abdul Haseem Khan, who have already notched four goals.
But the contests between the two teams have mostly been decided by the manner in which the players have handled the huge pressure.
Pakistan have twice been undermined this year by not only the Indians' superior display but also the anxiety of playing in front of a big-cheering crowd at Delhi rooting for the hosts.
The advantage, which India enjoyed in Delhi is not here and it needs to be seen whether Pakistan are able to overcome the nervousness and produce top-drawer stuff, which they could not do in last month's CWG clash between the two teams.
Indian skipper Rajpal does not think the victory in their previous clash, and that too by a huge margin when they ran roughshod over their rivals in Commonwealth Games, would have any bearing on tomorrow's crunch match.
"Though we beat Pakistan in the World Cup and Commonwealth Games, tomorrow's match is a new game. Those wins are history and both teams start with a 0-0 score-line," Rajpal said about the eagerly awaited clash that's expected to attract a big crowd at the main pitch.
Sandeep Singh, who was brilliant with his penalty corner essays and scored four goals to rout Bangladesh, indicated the presence of Abbas in the opposition ranks would make some difference.
However, India's manager Harendra Singh insisted that the three defeats against India would prey on Pakistan's mind and put them under extra pressure tomorrow.
"The pressure is on Pakistan as we have defeated them three times this year. We should not be too concerned about Pakistan's challenge. Instead it is they who should be concerned about us," a confident Harendra said.
He also did not think Abbas still posed a big threat.
"I don't want to put pressure on the goalkeeper (Bharat Chetri) by talking about Sohail Abbas. He has not been performing that well of late. Why unnecessarily hype up the Abbas factor," he queried.
But the manager thought the match as the key for India to up the momentum in their main aim to attain the gold and qualify directly for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
"Whether Abbas is there or not what we have to do is win the match and use that momentum to take us to the semi-finals and beyond," he said.
India, who finished fifth in the 2006 Doha Games and failed to win a medal in men's hockey for the first time ever, also did not qualify for the subsequent Beijing Olympics for the first time since 1928.
Coach Brasa, however, cautioned after the facile victory against Bangladesh that the team needed to study the Pakistan team.
"They have come with a new team with Sohail Abbas in it. We will watch them, study them before deciding what to do," he said.
Historically, Pakistan -- who have won the gold in the Games on seven occasions and are trying to regain it after two decades -- have had the edge in hockey clashes between the two nations in the past Asiads.
Pakistan have won seven of their eleven encounters, losing two and drawing two. PTI