In the months leading up to the 2023 FIH Hockey Men’s World Cup, a lot of focus was on India’s defensive fragility. But in contrast, after their opening two matches in Rourkela, the defence allayed some fears by keeping back-to-back clean sheets against quality opposition in Spain and England.
While the defence has gone from strength to strength, the attack has suddenly lost their edge. An attack which scored 32 goals in their nine matches before the World Cup has struggled in front of goal in Odisha.
Though they lead the tournament in the number of circle penetrations with 45, the final output has been missing, something which chief coach Graham Reid spoke about in the pre-match press conference on Wednesday.
“We are creating opportunities so I am not worried about that. We just need to focus on the execution of the skills,” Reid said.
“The most important thing is a little bit of calmness. ‘Aaram se, aaram se’. I think sometimes they are perhaps rushing a little bit, making not the right choices. Those are things that can happen in the heat of battle. Against England, we made a lot of chances and a lot better choices. I thought their keeper played very well. Our positioning is kinda ok but we need to work on our execution. Don’t think there’s too much that needs tweaking,” he added.
Mandeep Singh, one of India’s most prolific and experienced forwards, told Scroll.in that the forwards have been speaking to each other about their barren run in front of goal and said, “We have spoken about creating space for each other. It’s something that we have spoken with the youngsters Sukhjeet and Abhishek as well. We need to make space for each other to score. The more open space we get, the better our chances are of scoring.”
Reid remains tight lipped on Hardik
A lot of focus ahead of India’s final Pool D match has been around Hardik Singh and his fitness. The midfielder has been India’s best player at the World Cup so far and his injury against England has, rightly so, made the headlines.
Hardik came out for training with the team on Tuesday and Wednesday but did not take part in any sessions. On Tuesday, he walked onto the pitch with a football before kicking it away with his injured leg as if to signal to the watching media that his injury is not serious as it was feared.
India had initially ruled out Hardik for the Wales match saying that the midfielder will undergo an MRI scan. On Wednesday, Reid said that Hardik’s injury is progressing well and the team will take a call on the morning of the match whether to play him.
“The MRI (scan) was much better than we had hoped. It gives us hope for him to be out playing again in this tournament,” Reid said.
India are second in Pool D behind England on goal difference, with the topper directly qualifying for the quarter-finals. England’s match against Spain takes place before India’s which will help Reid’s men know their task at hand before they took the Kalinga Stadium on Thursday.
“It’s an advantage knowing what your objective is. That’s probably fair enough. But I don’t think we’ll be transfixed on it. That’s also dangerous,” Reid said. “We just need to play our normal game, stay patient, move the ball around, play simple. Do all the stuff that normally gets you a good result and then work it out from there. If you are constantly worried about it, you get anxious, the adrenaline gets too much. The message will be to keep it simple and stay patient.”
Pool D fixtures at the hockey World Cup on Thursday
Spain vs England, 5 pm at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneshwar
India vs Wales, 7 pm at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneshwar