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All or nothing for hosts: India need to win their Pool C match against Korea

Korea too are in contention for a spot in quarters - in fact,they are relatively better placed.

In their first two games of the Junior World Cup,against the Netherlands and Canada,India have been quick to concede,going behind in the third minute on both occasions. In hockey or football,it’s surely better to concede early than to let one in late. For in the former case,a team will have plenty of time to try and mount a comeback. So far,India have found it tough to recover — they lost to the Dutch 3-2 and barely defeated Canada,again the scoreline being 3-2.

So here the home team are,needing nothing less that a win against their Pool C rivals Korea to advance. Korea too are in contention for a spot in the quarterfinals — in fact,they are relatively better placed as a draw will be enough to send them through on goal difference (+2 as against India’s 0).

Let’s put it this way,Manpreet Singh (whose nickname is,ironically,Korean) and his teammates are,therefore,in a familiar position: They are practically a goal down against Korea (as they need to score at least one more than them). Only this time it’s not even three minutes on the clock.

Thus,the onus to get a result on Tuesday will be more on the Indians. Which means more anxiety and added pressure. Against the Netherlands and Canada,after conceding that early goal,India — perhaps too eager to get back on equal terms — played at a pace that was faster than usual. And while they did create more chances,that anxiety meant their finishing wasn’t really up there. Also,in the process,they left holes in the defence,and the opposition often looked like scoring when it counter-attacked.

However,coach Gregg Clark,while admitting that there was a bit of anxiety in the team,played down Korea’s advantage. “I have full confidence that the boys will be able to put it right,” the South African said. “It’s a concern that we have conceded early in both matches. We have got to be more accurate in those first couple of minutes,certainly.

“I don’t think all the pressure is on us by any means. The shoe is on both feet. Korea will be under pressure as well knowing they need to get some points out of the game and knowing that we beat them comfortably when we last met,” he added.

Psychological edge

The last time India’s colts faced Korea was at the Sultan of Johor Cup in September. India trounced them 6-1. Clark says India will have that psychological edge going into tomorrow’s make-or-break match. “Korea were very organised in their defence (against the Dutch,to whom they lost 3-2). They defended very deep and made it difficult for Holland. They are a very good side,but psychologically we’ll have strong memories of Johor. Then again,it’s a World Cup. It’s not just any six-national tournament. This is where it counts,” Clark added.

Still,there’s one more positive that Clark cited from that U-21 event. He said,from his experience of the Johor six-nation cup and the Asian Champions Trophy in Japan,that his team tends to get better as a tournament progresses.

“In Johor,we had two squeaky victories in the first two games against England and Argentina,and then we got better and better and went on to win the tournament comfortably. Then in Japan,we started with two defeats in the Asian Champions Trophy,and then we got stronger and stronger. So that’s my experience. I am hoping that we can repeat that formula on Tuesday,” a confident Clark said.

The results may not have quite been to his liking,but overall Clark expressed his satisfaction with the team’s performance. He insisted that the team would be going with the same game plan as before. “The focus will be on converting our chances. Against Canada,we created a lot of circle entries. We had a number of fairly good chances. So,obviously,we’ll be sticking to our ways in the future matches.

“We did a lot of things right — possession,the number of shots at goal and circle entries that we limited the opposition to. Statistically,I will be happy with those numbers in any other game,” he said,before a pause. “But the ultimate statistics is on the scoreboard. And it’s about converting the good things that we have been doing into goals.”

India can also take inspiration from the batch of 2001. And their exploits. Then,as now,Gagan Ajit Singh & Co. were in a must-win situation going into their final pool match against Holland,having drawn against Argentina and lost to Australia. India defeated the Dutch 4-3.

The rest is history.

Tuesday’s matches:

Group A Germany vs Egypt 1400

Group A Belgium vs Pakistan 1600

Group C Netherlands vs Canada 1800

Group C India vs Korea 2000

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