LONDON • India are favourites to retain the Champions Trophy today but they would probably have preferred to face different opponents than arch-rivals Pakistan in what is sure to be a highly-charged final at The Oval.
The neighbouring countries have moved on from years of political conflicts but emotions will run high as millions of supporters around the world watch the first major cricket final between the teams since the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup.
One of the most unpredictable sides in world sport, Pakistan were the lowest-ranked side going into the tournament featuring the world's top eight one-day international sides and produced a shambolic performance in their heavy opening defeat by India.
But, as they have done many times before, Pakistan suddenly found their form with wins over top-ranked South Africa and Sri Lanka before delivering an outstanding all-round display to stun hosts England in the semi-final.
India suffered a shock loss to Sri Lanka in the group stage before overwhelming Bangladesh in the semi-final and their captain Virat Kohli has been impressed by Pakistan's resurgence.
"The turnaround has been magnificent," he said. "They've beaten sides that looked really strong against them."
India, who beat Pakistan by five runs in the Twenty20 final 10 years ago, have been lifted by outstanding batting from Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma.
"What we are going to try to do is repeat the sort of cricket that we have played so far, knowing the strengths and weaknesses they have," Kohli said.
"If we focus on our skills and our abilities and believe in ourselves, we'll give ourselves a chance to do some good things ."
Pakistan's rejuvenation has been built around the runs of opener Fakhar Zaman and the experienced Azhar Ali while Hasan Ali and Junaid Khan stepped up to compensate for the absence of fast bowler Mohammad Amir, who missed the semi-final with a back spasm but is expected to be fit for the final.
Their confidence will be boosted by the fact that it was at The Oval where India suffered their only defeat of this tournament when Sri Lanka chased down a target of 322 to win by seven wickets.
"We've got nothing to lose - the pressure is more on them (India)," Pakistan's bowling coach Azhar Mahmood said. "But I can tell you one thing - we have come to win."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
INDIA V PAKISTAN
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