A winning streak of seven matches, a cushy 5-0 margin of triumph in the first match and three days’ time to rest, recuperate and train, might have helped India ready themselves – physically and mentally – to face Belgium, ranked third in the world, on Sunday. A victory isn’t compulsory – but is essential – to stay in the tournament for both teams.
Else, they’ll have to play the crossover round with any of the four dangerous teams (the Netherlands, Pakistan, Malaysia and Germany) to qualify for the quarter-finals. On the eve of this crucial game, India coach Harendra Singh spoke to the media on his team’s preparation, its opponents’ strengths and more.
Belgium has been a good team since the last 4-5 years, with good circle penetration. But the Indian team has set a trademark of attacking hockey since last 4-5 months. We won’t compromise on that but have to take care of the midfield area. We have to make them run after the ball. They can’t score if we have the ball with us.
On India’s last match against South Africa
We are not relieved (after opening win against South Africa). We have to enjoy the pressure. If you have to go (straight) to the quarter-finals, then Sunday’s match is [like] a pre-quarterfinal. We have discussed accordingly, one match at a time.
On India’s previous matches against Belgium
We have to remember that we have also done good in the past. If we keep reminding ourselves of negative things, it’s not good. The match in Rotterdam, World League and the Champions Trophy, we did a lot of good things against them (Belgium). So that needs to be shown to the players, and the team is prepared accordingly. What bad has happened is history. Our problem is we talk about past a lot and not think about the present. We have taken this team out of that thought process.
On Belgium’s playing style
Belgium hockey, after they trap is good and they play vertical hockey, don’t give parallel or back pass. Our players will take chances in the midfield. When a mistake happens, our team has to defend that.
On the crowd
Crowd is our 12th man. Many teams (opponents) can feel that pressure. We should take advantage of that. If you become defensive after conceding a goal, the crowd also goes silent. But if you keep attacking, the crowd remains energetic. To stay in the game, we have to play attacking hockey. If your shoulders drop, you lose crowd support and momentum.
On the turf
If this turf is slow, it is for every team. Every major tournament has change of turf, FIH is satisfied with it. The women’s World Cup turf was the same as this one.