India coach Jose Brasa has asked his boys to bottle up their emotions when they take on traditional rivals Pakistan in their first match of the hockey World Cup in New Delhi on Sunday.
Wary that the usual hype and emotion that surround an India-Pakistan match might distract his wards, Brasa said he has advised the players to take it just as a normal match.
"I am not a fan of words like 'arch-rivals'. I have told the boys to take the match against Pakistan just as a normal game and nothing else. I have told them to cut off the emotional aspect and to focus on the game," Brasa told a pre-tournament press conference.
Insisting that there was no real hostility between the players or coaches from both side, Brasa said, "We have very good relations with the Pakistanis. Our players are very close to their players and even the coaching staff have very good relations."
The Spaniard said he and his players were not concerned about off-field controversies and shadow of politics on the India-Pakistan match.
"Sports should not be affected by politics. It should rather help in forging friendship. But we are not concerned by all that. We are focusing on doing well in the World Cup," he said.
The experienced coach, who has an impressive CV having managed many a top international sides, conceded India did not have the right kind of build-up to the mega event. "There were interruptions and problems but we overcame all those. We are very strong mentally. Whatever off-field controversies (happened), we left it behind. Past is past," he declared.
Echoing captain Rajpal Singh, Brasa said the target for his side was to reach the semifinal and take it from there.
"It is difficult to set targets because it is going to be a tough competition. In this sport, even the best side can lose anytime. But we want to fight hard and reach at least the semi-finals. It will be difficult but we want to give our best shot. We want to be among the best," said Brasa, who took over the Indian team coaching job in June 2008.
He listed three aspects of the game in which the Indians has improved in his 21 month stint so far with them.
"Fitness of the players has improved a lot. We do a lot of hard work on the fitness aspect. The team is fighting fit.
"The second aspect is tactics with emphasis on man-to-man marking. The Indian team had not paid much emphasis on this aspect in the past but I am doing that," he said.
"The third is the build-up for attacks. We are working on using the width of the field for building attacks, from the flanks and from the centre of the field. This is different from what Indian players have been doing in the past," explained Brasa.
Acknowledging that penalty corner conversion would be key to winning games, Brasa said his side was not lacking in that aspect of the game also.
"We have in Sandeep Singh one of the best drag-flickers. Then we have Diwakar Ram and Dhananjay Mahadik. So we have three drag-flickers. We are also working on indirect methods of taking penalty corners and many variations," he said.
Asked if he fears losing his job if the team flops in the tournament, Brasa quipped, "Two months after I took up the job I knew that I may lose job anytime. I don't have a house also, I am just shifting from hotel to hotel in the last two months. So I am ready anytime."