London(PTI) Bruised and battered after their shocking ouster from the title race, an inconsistent India would look for solace when they take on arch-rivals Pakistan in a 5th-8th classification match of the Hockey World League Semi-Final here tomorrow.
India, ranked sixth in the world, crashed out of the podium race after suffering a 2-3 loss to 14th placed Malaysia in a quarterfinal match yesterday.
The loss to Malaysia, their second in two months, would be hard to digest for Roelant Oltmans’ men who have been trying hard to regain their place in the elite league of world hockey. The loss didn’t make any difference to India’s participation in this year’s Hockey World League Final and next World Cup as being the hosts they are already assured of a place in the two events. Both events are to held in the Indian city of Bhubaneswar.
The Indians, who were inconsistent throughout the tournament, should take the loss as a lesson and work on their mistakes.
Even though India hold an edge over Pakistan having thrashed them 7-1 in the pool stages here, the tussle between the two nations can be unpredictable. Just like the pool match, emotions will run high on both sides and come tomorrow, Pakistan will be desperate for a revenge.
The defeat against Malaysia still fresh in their minds, it remains to be seen how the Indians regroup so quickly. A loss would be disastrous for Indian hockey, which has seen an upward trend over the last few years.
A defeat tomorrow will definitely raise question marks over the team’s and chief coach Oltmans’ progress over the years. So, Oltmans’ and his men would be desperate to bring cheers back into the faces of their fans with yet another commanding performance.
India would look to avoid the mistakes they have been committing on and off in the tournament. The Indians need to get off the blocks early and take control of the proceedings and it’s high time the backline, their perennial problem, pull up their socks and take responsibility.
The strike force, too, have misfired a lot in the tournament, even though Ramandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh have scored some scintillating field goals. Barring Ramandeep and Akshdeep, no other striker could excel and the duo would look for more support from the likes of Mandeep Singh, Talwinder Singh and SV Sunil. Another area which would be high on Oltmans’ mind is the unimpressive performance of young Harmanpreet Singh from penalty corners.
Pakistan, on the other hand, have improved with every game and fought hard before losing 1-3 to reigning Olympic champions Argentina in the quarterfinals.
So, the Indians can ill afford to dwell on their pool stage performance against Pakistan. A win will ensure India’s place in the fifth-sixth place play-off match scheduled for Sunday.