FIH Hockey World Cup 2018: India earn direct entry to quarterfinals- Poor attacking skills still big concern

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Sudipta Biswas

India earned a direct entry to thequarterfinals of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) World Cup in Odishaon Saturday, routing Canada 5-1 in their final Pool C match at Kalinga Stadium.The result showed that Men in Blue are getting better in each match. The hostsqualified for the next round as the table topper of Pool C, even though Indiaand Belgium were on a level with seven points in three matches. It happenedbecause India was way ahead of Belgium on goal difference.  So, when it comes to booking a berth in theround of 8 India trounced the Red Lions on aggregation of goals. While Indiahas +9 goals in their defense Belgium managed to finish with +5 goals.

This intriguing scenario at the Pool Cpoints table helped India, the fifth-ranked team in FIH world rankings, to advanceto the quarterfinals. On the other hand, Belgium suffered heartbreak even afterstarting the tournament as one of the favourites for the coveted title. Now,they will have to play crossover against the third-ranked team of Pool D, whichis yet to be decided.

Now, India will confront either Germany orthe Netherlands in the quarterfinals next week. In case, the hosts fail to getbetter of them in their December 11 clash they will get a second chance whenthe winner of the match between second and third-ranked teams of Pool C and Dwill meet them to revitalize their campaign.

India vs Canada: Match summary

Comeback to the India-Canada match, thehome team took a lead in the 12th minutes of the first quarter, when HarmanpreetSingh found the back of the net from the top of Canada goal line. However, theNorth American side fought back in the proceeding and got the much-neededequaliser when Floris Van Son managed to beat Indian custodian PR Sreejesh inthe 39th minutes into the second half.

But, things have changed upside down in thefinal quarter when a different India hit the pitch breaking the huddle. Aflurry of attack from the right flank left Canada defense in tatter. A total offour-goal was scored by India in a short span of time to leave Canada intatter. Coach Harendra Singh’s decision to bring Lalit Upadhyay back tomidfield from the defense, benching captain Manpreet Singh who was less than100 per cent in the match, proved to be a masterstroke.

In a gap of two minutes, India netted twogoals to make it 3-1 in their favour. It was Varanashi boy Upadhyay who gaveIndia the first lead converting the penalty corner into a subtle goal in the46th minute into the final quarter. In the 47the minute, Chinglensana SinghKangujam put India way ahead in the match on a day which is being considered ashis best outing in the event so far. In the 51st minute, local boy AmitRohitdas rushed to the Canada defense to score a goal from the right angle tomake it 4-1 for India.

In the wake of India’s calculated attack,Canada was left baffled. With Indians were pressing hard and coming fast totheir D-Box , they were finding it hard to keep them in check. As a result,they had to bear the brunt. In the 57th minute into the match, Upadhyay put thefinal nail in the coffin by netting his second in the match. It will not be anexaggeration to say that it was Upadhyay’s strong presence in the midfield whichplayed a vital role in accelerating the pace of India’s attack in the finalquarter.

Wasted opportunities mean oppositionwill make them pay heavy price

Even after putting in such an excellentperformance there is an area of concern for the hosts. It was their attack,which struggled to use most of the opportunities in the match, which leftwrinkles on Indian team management.  Thehosts would have to improve their attacking skills to make sure their unbeatenrun continues in the quadrennial event.  Indian defense, which consumed a lot of late goalsin the last one decade, stood firm throughout the match and made sure Canadaattack didn’t manage to penetrate them. Hence, we could claim that they havebecome an improved unit.

It was India’s frontline, comprising ofMandeep Singh, Dilpreet Singh and Akashdeep Singh, who did an awesome job bycreating a lot of opportunities at the Canada D-Box, get unnoticed because ofIndia’s failure to convert opportunities into goals from close range. India gotoverwhelming six penalty corners in the process but managed to score two fromthem. It was a very poor conversion rate for a team which is being consideredas one of the biggest title contenders throughout the contest.

Notwithstanding, coach Harendra Singh wouldhave to go to the home-work desk with his boys to make a way out before theirDecember 11 match in the round of 8.