A draw against Netherlands on Saturday is enough for India to set up a meeting with the defending champions Australia in the Champions Trophy at Breda. But a draw against the hosts isn’t an easy task for Harendra Singh’s men, who are placed second on the table (seven points) with one more group match to go.
It’s safe to say that the performance of the Indian team has dipped after the 2-1 victory against Olympic champions Argentina in its second match of the tournament.
Crucial to India’s first two victories was the midfield – spearheaded by Sardar Singh and Manpreet Singh (who have a combined experience of over 500 games) – that ensured the swift, smooth flow of the ball during counterattacks. With Manpreet’s backing, Sardar also showed glimpses of his best hockey. But an injury that Manpreet picked up whilst defending penalty corners against Argentina has hampered his game, and in turn, the Indian midfield.
The counterattacks were not as fast as it were in the first two games. India are also ruing the absence of Ramandeep Singh, who scored and set up a goal against Pakistan. His strength and speed was sorely missed (especially) against Australia and Belgium.
Another major cause of concern for India would be their penalty corner conversion rate. Out of the 17 penalty corners they earned in the last three games, they have converted just three (all by Harmanpreet Singh). This is an area that they have been looking to strengthen for a while now. And, a penalty corner in these crucial games, especially against higher-ranked opponents, become priceless.
Harendra Singh would be aware that the hosts boast of fast paced forward line that can punish the Indians if the midfield fails to control the pace of the match. The Dutch have looked to score a goal early in the match and have mostly been successful in this tournament.
This means that India’s tendency to start slow and try and soak in the pressure before pushing forward could hurt them if the Dutch forwards manage to get the early lead that they are always looking for.
Knowing Harendra, he won’t be looking for a draw even if that would be enough to take India to the final. But even to achieve that, the Indians would have to be aggressive and not sit back like they did in the second half against Belgium.