The opening goal scored by the opponent. A good response to conceding the said goal. An equaliser by Vandana Katariya from a Penalty Corner situation. Good chances to win the game but equally, crucial saves from Savita Punia to not lose it. The opponent goalkeeper having a blinder.

India’s match against China followed largely a similar pattern to the one against England, as Savita and Co, while remaining unbeaten, are also winless after two matches. In a group that has been anything but easy to call, India’s two points from their first two matches could be crucial but equally, there is a chance they could come back to bite them.

It tells you a lot about the group, where India could easily be the team to either qualify directly for the quarterfinals as toppers or finish fourth and be left to play mostly meaningless classification matches.

A lot, of course, will depend on how the match between England and China pans out before the Indian team takes on New Zealand in its final Pool B match on Thursday in Amsterdam.

Before we go into the scenarios for qualifying, here’s a quick look back at the match against China.

Takeaways from India vs China

With two female head coaches on either side, who would have had familiarity in their own styles given how long they have been around the game, the opening quarter was a chess match. India perhaps had more attacking chances, but China were solid with their structures too. The number of sideways and backward passes that Indian defenders and midfielders had to make was testament to the fact that there were virtually no angles to play with. A goalless first quarter was inevitable, with Navneet Kaur getting one bright chance to open the scoring.

The second quarter saw India open up much more, attacking from the flanks, targeting the byline and cutting the ball back to centre. It was one such move that saw Vandana Katariya hit the post with a superb shot with her back to goal. India celebrated the opener but the review showed that Jyoti had bundled it in with her body at the far post. The goalpost hasn’t been India’s friend in this tournament so far.

But, with India on the ascendancy, one moment of genius in the midfield by Zhang Xindan found Zheng Jiali in space and the shot was too much to save even for Savita. India responded brilliantly, though, and were kept out only by the brilliance of China’s impressive goalkeeper Liu Ping. Savita had to make a crucial save just before half time to make sure India didn’t go down 0-2 at half time and the defence had to withstand pressure early in Q3 as well. But when the goal came for India at the fag end of Q3, it was well earned and it was once again Vandana’s brilliance from close range that made it happen.

But when you thought that India would make that Q3 ascendancy count, China finished the match the much better side, with the team in blue hanging on.

In terms of areas to improve, goal-scoring will be an obvious concern for coach Schopman and her wards. The younger, pacy, skillful players have not been able to impact games enough with Vandana having to the heavylifting, combining with the ever creative Navneet Kaur.

Reflecting on the performance, head coach Janneke Schopman said, “I thought we started well against a tight Chinese defense. We were unlucky to not score early on and one moment of not paying attention defensively resulted in us conceding a goal. After that we struggled for a bit but when we found the space, we were able to play some good combinations.”

She added, “The PC goal was great but felt like we forgot to push through after that with China being more aggressive in the end phase. We are where we are but obviously, we would have liked to have more points. Our pool is incredibly tough and small things will make the difference.”

Full-time stats: India 1-1 China

Pool B standings and scenarios

Now, onto more important things. The teams will have two targets of course. Finishing top of the pool will guarantee a spot in the quarterfinals. Finishing second and third means a spot in the crossover phase among eight such teams, with four teams from there going into the last eight to join the group toppers.

As things stand, only New Zealand are guaranteed to finish in top three.

Fixture wise, New Zealand and India (11 pm IST pushback) will know what the exact equations are, as England and China will play at 8 pm IST on Thursday.

The Black Sticks spiced things up in Pool B by defeating England in the late match. New Zealand were on the backfoot for large parts of that game, but despite conceding early, were efficient in front of goal and pulled off a heist. England had 14 penalty corners and 34 circle entries and just one goal to show for it.

But what the result did is that India – as tough as it is going to be – can actually finish top of the group by defeating New Zealand in the final match.

UPDATE: England defeated China after a cagey encounter in this Pool B and are guaranteed to reach crossover phase. China are dependent on a big defeat for India.

As a result India can top the pool now if they defeat New Zealand and go directly to the quarterfinals as group toppers. India can also progress to the next phase with a draw, which would see New Zealand top Pool B.

China will be hoping that India lose by two goals or more, which will see India finish fourth on the table on goal difference against China. If India lose 0-2 (or worse), then China finish 3rd. If India lose 1-3, then it is going to be very complicated. If India lose 2-4, then India will finish 3rd.

There are multiple tiebreak scenarios too and here’s how the tiebreaks will pan out:

a) If at the end of the pool matches two or more teams have the same number of points for any place in a pool, these teams will be ranked according to their respective number of matches won. 

b) If there remains equality among two or more teams, then these teams will be ranked according to their respective goal difference (which means “goals for” less “goals against”). A positive goal difference always takes precedence over a negative one. 

c) If there still remains equality among two or more teams, then these teams will be ranked according to their respective number of “goals for”’. 

d) Should there still remain equality among two teams, then the result of the match played between those teams will determine the ranking of the tied teams. 

There are more subpoints from (e) to (k), involving matches played within the teams, field goals scored and then even shootouts. Hopefully, it doesn’t get that complicated.

The winners of the pools will play directly in the quarter-finals. The teams that finish 2nd and 3rd in the pools play cross-over matches as follows although the matches will not necessarily be played in this order.

Screenshots in the article courtesy: FIH Media / Disney+Hotstar