India will have to play out of their skin and avoid giving soft penalty corners if they fancy their chances against European Champions Holland in the finals of four-nation Punjab Gold Cup hockey tournament at the Sector-42 stadium in Chandigarh on Monday.
Monday’s match also provide the Sandeep Singh-led Indian side a golden opportunity to redeem the national game’s lost glory.
However,going by statistics,Holland have an upper hand over the hosts as the Indians have failed to beat the Dutch in the last 13 years with their last win coming in January 1996 in the Olympic qualifiers.
To add to that,conceding soft penalty corners India’s major concern in the tournament. Although,the hosts lost only one game in the competition against Olympic champions Germany,they have conceded the maximum number of short corners in the event so far.
On the other hand,having remained undefeated in the competition finishing with 14 points from six matches,the Dutch are on a high,especially having outplayed World Champions Germany 7-1 in the last league match in Chandigarh on Saturday.
Holland strikers Jeroen Hertzberger,Lucas Judge and Wouter Jolie are in supreme form and India’s forward line comprising of Shivender Singh,Rajpal Singh,Prabhjot Singh and Tushar Khandekar will have to convert the half chances on Monday if the eight-time Olympic champions desire a victory against the mighty Dutch outfit.
India coach-in-charge Harendra Singh too admitted that giving away easy short corners has been a matter of concern but said if the players stick to their plan tomorrow then beating Holland won’t be a problem.
India conceded eight penalty corners in their first leg match against Germany even though the opposition failed to convert any of them,four against Holland on Wednesday and eight against New Zealand on Saturday.
“We know giving away too many soft penalty corners is one grey area which we have to care of. We have a plan in place for the finals and if we can stick to it,beating Holland should not be difficult,” Harendra said.
“I have told my boys that giving away soft penalty corners like the ones we saw against Germany and New Zealand will not help us,” he said,adding the defence led by veteran Dilip Tirkey will have to give its top performance on Monday.
Having drawn both their matches in the tournament against the Dutch (4-4 in the first and then a 2-2 draw in the second leg of the tournament),Harendra hoped that Monday’s summit clash would be a “keenly fought contest”.
“I can assure you that it will be an exciting game of hockey,which people will really enjoy,” he said.
“I don’t think any psychological factor will be there as it will be a new game and a new situation tomorrow,” he added.
Asked about the fact that India had not defeated Holland in the last 13 years,Harendra said,”We are not thinking about that at the moment. We will change the record tomorrow with a win.”
Skipper Sandeep also exuded confidence that his teammates will play their heart out to bring smiles to the faces of over 20,000 supporters who are expected to assemble at the stadium on Monday.
“The boys are eagerly waiting for the contest. We will not disappoint the people,” Sandeep said,adding that he was pleased with the team’s performance in the Cup.
“Our graph is improving with each day,” he said.
Meanwhile,Dutch hockey coach Michel Heuvel also feels that the finals should be a keenly contested encounter,but said his boys would like to carry on the winning momentum.
“We want to maintain our winning streak. The huge win against Germany yesterday has also given a further boost to our confidence.”
He said the Punjab Gold Cup experience will help the Dutch prepare well for the 2010 World Cup in India.
Meanwhile,Germany and New Zealand will clash in Chandigarh on Monday for the third and fourth place.
Germany,who finished with five points would be eyeing to finish off the tournament with a win as the World Champions failed to live up to their billing.
On the other hand,the Black Sticks,too would be hoping to salvage atleast one win from the competition.