BIRMINGHAM - India have far more at stake in Sunday’s Champions Trophy match against arch-rivals Pakistan than launching their title defence -- even if skipper Virat Kohli insists it is “just another game”.

The cricket-mad neighbouring countries rarely square off and hundreds of millions of fans are expected to tune in and watch the teams fight for national pride at Edgbaston in Birmingham. “Don’t win the Champions Trophy, but just beat Pakistan and we will give you a grand welcome back home,” Indian fan Aman Sood told AFP, summing up the high-stakes contest.

Their few encounters are frequently poisoned by the political rivalry of the day. For almost 18 years, wars prevented either side from visiting the other until the ice was broken in 1978, but even today matches are few and far between.

The two sides have not played a bilateral series since 2012-2013, and India have refused to consider the idea without an end to “cross border terrorism” -- code for militant incursions along the disputed Kashmir border.

The turbulent history places great pressure on Kohli in Sunday’s clash. A victory is vital not just for diplomatic point-scoring but potentially securing a berth in the semi finals. Kohli “is right in calling it just another game, because he does not want to put more pressure on him and the players”, said former India opener Chetan Chauhan.

“It’s the rivalry between the two countries that gets people excited. It is something like England-Australia. Nobody wants to lose to the other,” Chauhan, now sports minister in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state, told AFP. “Every player wants to do his best against Pakistan and vice versa because that (performance) has value and is remembered for a long time. It is a highly charged match.”