Dhaka, September 11: Shanmugam Venkatesh, who led India in the last bilateral series against Pakistan in 2005, feels matches against Pakistan is primarily a 'psychological battle'. On the eve of the SAFF Suzuki Cup semifinal match between arch rivals India and Pakistan, Venkatesh, the current assistant coach of the Indian team, said, "Be it a player or a layman, everyone gets to feel the heat when an Indian-Pakistan match is scheduled. Everyone gets into the zone before the match."
The former Indian skipper added, "In India, we are acquainted with the rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. At the international stage, everyone regards the India-Pakistan fixture very highly. This battle is primarily a psychological one. The mind-set of the team decides whether they'll prevail or not.
"Players will need to understand the importance of the fixture. They need to grasp every single aspect of the game. Is it a home game or an away one? Which tournament are they playing?" Venkatesh stated.
Venkatesh also lauded Pakistan for their "character" and reaching the semi-finals coming back from a 3-year suspension. "They (Pakistan) have been thorough and sharp on the pitch. It's not an easy job to reach to the semi-finals after a 3-year-long break. But they have made it possible, and that too in some style," Venkatesh echoed.
"Reaching the last four after a gap of 13 years shows their character and how motivated they are. We respect them as our opponents and it's going to be a tough game for us," he said on Tuesday (September 10). "We understand that there is a lot of madness around this fixture but we are considering this just as another match. We have to get the job done. Only then we stand in with a chance to retain the SAFF Suzuki Cup," Venkatesh stated.
India have had the upper hand against Pakistan having won 18 out of the 31 encounters so far. Even in the SAFF Championship, India have won 4 of the 7 encounters against Pakistan. "But all of that is history. We have come here with a young squad and we are focusing on providing the boys an opportunity at the International stage. We can never be labelled as favourites. But yeah, we have a strong intent to win it," he said.
Talking about his personal memories of playing Pakistan, the 40-year-old quipped: "I still remember my first Pakistan match. We played them in Goa -- it was SAFF Championship 1997 which we went on to eventually win," he recollected. "We had a clinical game and won 2-0 at the end. Technically, maybe we were superior but as I said before, the game relies on the steel nerve mentality of the team."
The three-time SAFF Champion (1997, 1999, 2005) also ended up on the losing side once out of the seven matches he played against Pakistan. "I played seven matches against Pakistan and lost once. That was in the Friendship Cup in 2005. We drew and won the other two matches. The series ended 1-1 but after the loss, it was like the end of the world for us. Such was the reaction from everyone," he signed off.
Match is scheduled to kick-off at 7:00pm IST 7pm
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