London: Former coach Harendra Singh had to resign after India lost to Malaysia in the 2010 Asian Games semifinal. The stakes are nowhere that high this time, and no jobs may be lost. It’s the Hockey World League (HWL), and India have already qualified for the Finals later this year and the World Cup in 2018 by virtue of being hosts.

The pressure is off, but that’s no reason to be complacent. There’s a tournament to be won, crucial rankings points on offer, and there are many reasons why a loss against Malaysia in the HWL quarterfinal on Thursday will hurt.

The golden-goal defeat (3-4) against Malaysia at the 2010 Asiad was, and still is, hard to accept. But why go that far, India, if you need reasons to settle scores? Just rewind to May this year.

Needing two-goal margin win to reach the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Final, India lost 1-0 to Malaysia, missing five penalty corners; and forcing coach Roelant Oltmans to admit, “we are not there yet”.

The tenacity of the Tigers comes to the fore against India, though they may not have the numbers to back that. The Malaysians often pull out all stops and rack up enough energy to trouble the Indians.

But a wake-up call for India may have arrived just in time to not drop guard. The inexperienced defence – missing PR Sreejesh, Rupinder Pal Singh and VR Raghunath – was split wide open by the Netherlands, who beat India 3-1 to top Pool B at the HWL Semifinals.

Until then, India were on a roll with 14 goals forced and only two conceded, in wins reading 4-1 against Scotland, 3-0 against Canada and 7-1 against Pakistan – their best ever against the arch-rivals. But the Dutch brought an altogether different class to the turf.

The Indian forwards, who were on song until that match, failed miserably. The so far resilient defence panicked in front of Dutch forwards who played “Who’s the Boss” with India’s backline.

Before the Netherlands game, India had scored 11 field goals, which has been the most heartening aspect of India’s game so far – in strike contrast to Ipoh a month and a half ago.

“Why are forwards clicking now? Maybe because of different setting, different persons. Ramandeep [Singh] is back in and I think he is someone who is creating a lot of chances up front. That’s good. He scored a couple of goals in the first match [vs Scotland] but has also provided a number of assists and creates penalty corners. That’s important,” Oltmans told The Field.

With 15 goals in four matches, India are currently third on the chart – behind Argentina (20) and England (19). The Olympic champions and the hosts finished No 1 and 2, respectively, in Pool A. Malaysia and China are the other teams to progress from that pool.

What should also worry India is the character Malaysia have showed in their comeback from morale-damaging defeats of 5-2 against Argentina and 7-3 against England. They regrouped well to rally and beat South Korea 1-0 and China 5-1 to finish No 3 in Pool A. But they aren’t jumping the gun.

“We are underdogs against India,” admitted Malaysia’s coach, Stephen Van Huizen.

Underdogs they may be, but Malaysia have everything to play for. A win here will guarantee them a place in the HWL Finals in India this December, and keep them in hunt for a World Cup qualification as well. That will make the Tigers ever so hungry.

But India don’t need any incentives to win. The bronze medallists from last HWL are long overdue to win a big tournament, and it will be agnonising if Malaysia pull a rabbit out of the hat to stop India in their tracks once again.