An unbeaten India would start as overwhelming favourites against an under-performing but dangerous South Korea in their first match of the Super 4 stage of the 10th Asia Cup hockey tournament on Wednesday. India, who finished the pool stages with an all-win record, looked the most dominating team in the tournament so far in all aspects of the game.
Korea, on the other hand, were far from impressive as they finished second in Pool B behind the ever-improving Malaysia.
Playing under a new chief coach Sjoerd Marijne, the Indians rose to the occasion and have displayed beautiful one-touch hockey, which they are known for.
The Indian strike force comprising Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Lalit Upadahay and Chinglensana Singh has been the most impressive, scoring field goals at will with their deft stick work.
The Indian midfield has been controlled well by talismanic Sardar Singh in the company of skipper Manpreet Singh. The backline, too, have shown bright under the watchful guard of Amit Rohidas, Harmanpreet Singh and young Dipsan Tirkey. What would be a matter of concern for Marijne is the penalty corner conversion rate even though Harmanpreet has been on target on a few occasions.
But going by India's performance so far - the 5-1 win over Japan, 7-0 thrashing of Bangladesh and the 3-1 win over arch-rivals Pakistan - they are expected to prevail over Korea with consummate ease.
In terms of world rankings as well, the Indians start as favourites. While India are placed sixth in the world, Korea occupy the 13th spot.
In the absence of the experienced PR Sreejesh, two young Indian custodians - Suraj Karkera and Akash Chikte - have risen to the occasion and have shown that they are no pushovers at the international stage.
But all said and done, the Indians cant afford to relax and be complacent, especially against a side like the Koreans, who are known for their fast, counter-attacking play.
The nimble-footed Koreans will be eager to prove a point, especially after an unimpressive showing in the pool stages, and can rattle any opponents with their pace on their given day.
Having said that, the Indians are expected to win the encounter with ease, but they cant afford to relax, especially at this stage where all the four top teams will play against each other and the top two sides will eventually progress to the final.
Meanwhile, in the other Super 4 match of the day, Pakistan will take on Pool B toppers Malaysia, who have turned out to be the surprise package from the pool stages.
(With PTI Inputs)