India’s two biggest heartbreaks under Harendra Singh came through shoot outs. First they lost to Australia in the Champions Trophy final after punching above their weight to reach there. The second loss in the Asian Games semi-final against Malaysia meant that the team will now have to take a longer route to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Against Australia, India drew a blank in the shootouts while Australia scored thrice. The Malaysians took the the Asian Games semi-final to sudden death and progressed to the final when SV Sunil missed.

In fact, India has lost four of the last five shootouts since 2016 and only on two occasions did they manage to score three or more goals.

And though Harendra and his boys would want to win every match in regulation time, they have worked extensively in the last few weeks on their conversation rate in the shoot outs and also how PR Sreejesh can be more effective under the bar.

“In shoot-outs, it is anybody’s game and time is not on your side. I’m very confident that Sreejesh will stop 2-3. The rest, of the five, I expect at least three of the players to score,” Harendra said in his first press conference before the start of the Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneshwar.

India begin their campaign against South Africa in Group C and their immediate goal would be to qualify for the knock-outs — ideally as the top ranked team in the group — before worrying about the shootouts.

Seven players from Junior World Cup

And coach Harendra is banking on the seven members of the squad which won the 2016 Junior World Cup under him and are already part of the core unit of the senior side.

“They already have a taste of playing in from out 20,000-25,000 home spectators. It is not pressure, it is enjoyment,” said the coach. “Very few players in the world get an opportunity to play a World cup in front of their own people. These seven boys have got it twice.”

A few teams, especially the ones that arrived at Bhubaneswar late, might struggle with the pitch as it is heavy and on the slower side.

But the Indian team have been training here for over three weeks and Harendra admits that the team needs to make the most of this advantage in the group stage and hit the ground running.

“You know how the surface plays in certain areas,” he said, “Anytime, when you go into a tournament you have to adjust. I think, the India team has got more time on the pitch than the others because we have practiced on the surface for three weeks. I don’t think the surface should be an excuse for us.”

The team has shown early promise by winning both their warm up games – 5-0 against Olympic champions Argentina and 2-1 against Spain – rather easily. “The last two matches, despite of Spain and Argentina put a lot of pressure and we managed to hold the ball. That’s a lesson we have learnt and executed it in the training matches. Now, the time has come for us to same hockey that we have displayed in the practice games,” Harendra said.

If they can manage that, hockey fans in India could be in for a treat.