Stern Belgium test awaits India

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 02 Dec 2018 09:52:04




Today’s Matches 

Canada vs South Africa 5:00 pm

India vs Belgium 7:00 pm

THEIR World Cup campaign off to a bright start, India will be optimistic of clearing a stern test awaiting them Sunday in the form of world number three Belgium, to guarantee a direct entry into the quarter-finals.

Seeking to rewrite history after 43 years, the Indian men’s hockey team made a strong start in the elite 16-nation tournament, with a 5-0 thrashing of South Africa on Wednesday. Rio Olympic silver medallist Belgium were far from impressive in their fighting 2-1 win over Canada.

Eight-time Olympic champions India’s only World Cup crown came way back in 1975. The hosts produced a fine display of attacking hockey to outclass South Africa and would look to continue in the same vein, although consistency is something India has always lacked.

Come Sunday, the Indians will have to be at their best in all departments to get the better of the ever-improving Red Lions, who will be out to prove a point after a not-so-impressive opener. The Indian forward line comprising Mandeep Singh, Simranjeet Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Lalit Upadhyay impressed against South Africa. While Simranjeet scored a brace, all three other strikers struck a goal each.

The Manpreet Singh-led midfield and the backline too did a decent job the other day but defenders Harmanpreet Singh, Birendra Lakra, Surender Kumar and goalkeeper P R Sreejesh will have to be on their toes against the attacking Belgians.

World number five India would also look to better their head-to-head record against Belgium. Since 2013, both teams have played against each other on 19 occasions with India registering five wins as against Belgium’s 13. One ended in a draw.

The last time the two teams played each other was in the final edition of the Champions Trophy earlier this year in Breda, Netherlands where India conceded a late goal to settle for a 1-1 draw.

The magnitude of a World Cup match is different and both teams are aware that a single mistake can ruin their hopes and aspirations.

Going into the match, penalty corner conversion remains a concern for both the teams as India made use of only one out of five against South Africa, while Belgium wasted the two set pieces that came their way against Canada. India scored from an indirect try by Mandeep from the penalty corner as Harmanpreet’s direct flick failed to crash into the opposition net.

But India’s chief coach Harendra Singh is not that worried about the lack of direct goals from penalty corners, saying he is happy as long as goals are coming. “We scored a mixture of beautiful field goals and penalty corners. Yes, we didn’t score direct from penalty corners but how we score doesn’t matter,” Harendra had said. The coach said against Belgium the Indian strikers will need to capitalise on the chances the way they did against South Africa.

“If you think only about goals then you run for the goals and forget your basics and structure. You need to avail the opportunity that comes your way,” he added. Belgium has made giant strides in world hockey in the last decade and has been among the top teams but a big title has eluded them.

Having scored less in their opener, Belgium coach Shane McLoed said the game against India is a “must-win” for them if they are to top Pool C and avoid cross-overs.

“We have got the three points. We may not have the goal difference we wanted so the game against India becomes a must-win game for us,” he said.

Belgium match is virtual pre-quarters: Harendra



A LITMUS test awaits India in their second pool match of the men’s hockey World Cup Sunday and chief coach Harendra Singh said he considers the game against world no 3 Belgium as a virtual “pre-quarter-final” for the home team.
India are placed in Pool C alongside reigning Olympic silver medallist Belgium, South Africa and Canada and the table toppers will directly qualify for the last-eight round.

With India notching up a 5-0 win over South Africa in their opener and Belgium beating Canada 2-1, the hosts just need a victory over the Red Lions to secure their place in the quarters and avoid the cross-overs.

As per the format of the tournament, the table-toppers from the four pools will directly qualify for the quarterfinals while the second and third placed teams will play in the cross-overs for a place in the last-eight round. “I don’t feel any pressure. If you enjoy that pressure you will succeed. What I feel is that for me tomorrow is our pre-quarterfinal match and if we want to directly go into the quarterfinals we will have to win tomorrow,” Harendra said in the pre-match press conference on Saturday. “We have discussed that in our team meeting and we will take one match at a time.”

Since 2013, India do not have a good record against Belgium, having won just five and suffered defeats on 13 occasions with one game ending in a draw.

Asked about Belgium’s threat, Harendra said India need to play to its strength to come out victorious on Sunday. “If we look at their graph in the last 4-5 years, Belgium is a good team. We have to play according to the situation,” he said.

“In the last 5-6 months the Indian team has set a trademark of playing attacking hockey which is our weapon and we won’t compromise on that.”

Speaking about the areas that India need to guard against Belgium on Sunday, the India coach said: “We need to take care about the vertical hockey Belgium plays. They don’t play parallel hockey of playing the ball back. So, we need to concentrate on that.”