|Both the India and Pakistan captains are aware of the underlying tensions surrounding the game [AFP]
The hockey World Cup returns to Indian shores after 28 years, amid tight security and with all eyes on Sunday's India-Pakistan clash at New Delhi's Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
Pakistan will be chasing their record fifth World Cup title while eight-time Olympic champions India will be looking to salvage some lost pride after failing to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the first time since 1928.
Both India and Pakistan are the former rulers of hockey but have fallen behind the kings of modern hockey - Germany, Australia and the Netherlands.
Germany, who are chasing a hat-trick of World Cup titles, Netherlands, South Korea, Canada, Argentina and New Zealand are in Group A.
South Africa, who will take on Beijing Games silver medallists Spain, will clash in the inaugural match on Sunday while favourites Australia will take on European champions England in the other Group B matches at the floodlit stadium.
But it will be the last match of the day, between the two sub-continental giants, that will gain more importance given the fact that the Pakistani hockey team is the first team from across the border to visit India since the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
Be it cricket or hockey, an India-Pakistan encounter always assumes high importance and it is apparent that the tensions and pressures evolving from the different diplomatic factors will spill on to the sports field.
Coaches of both the teams have been diplomatic in their approach with one saying that the "team that will keep its emotions under check will win the battle."
India's chief coach Jose Brasa, a Spaniard, is a shrewd tactician who coached Spain's women's team to a gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
|India captain Jose Brasa has urged his team play it cool ahead of their Pakistan clash [AFP]
Brasa was a witness to the last encounter between both the arch-rivals India and Pakistan in the semi-final of the Champions Challenge at Salta in Argentina.
Both the teams were locked 3-3 in an exciting match but the Indians failed to check their emotions and conceded three goals in the last 10 minutes and lost the match 6-3.
"Don't give too much importance to the match," Brasa has told his players.
It seems that Brasa's words have not fallen on deaf ears and the players have understood his point.
Skipper Rajpal Singh said: "We want to treat all group matches alike as we are in a tough group.
"We have chalked out plans against all our opponents, studying their strengths and weaknesses and that includes Pakistan. The only difference is we are playing Pakistan first and we would like to start on a winning note."
Pakistan coach Shahid Ali, who was part of the gold winning team in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, feels that the encounter will be a battle of nerves.
"Both the teams play more or less similar style of hockey and also the formation. It all boils down to handling pressure and which ever team holds its nerve carries the day," said Shahid.
For Pakistan, penalty-corner expert and world top scorer Sohail Abbas will be the key player while India will be counting on the three drag-flickers, Sandeep Singh, Diwakar Ram and Dhananjay Mahadik.