In between the exhilaration of India’s shock 3-3 draw with Olympic champions Germany on Monday, coach Terry Walsh tried to keep an objective perspective of proceedings. “One sunny day doesn’t make a summer,” Walsh had said.
Walsh had actually made his statement on a day warmer than ususal but you got the point he was trying to make. “We did several things better today. We were trying to improve in different areas. We played better against a quality opponent like Germany. But I think the opponents didn’t play that well today,” he said. “We have to understand the difference in level between India and some of these teams. I frankly don’t know how long it will take. It may take several months of steady progress,” he said.
Unfortunately, India won’t have the luxury of months of steady progress behind them when they face Australia in Hockey World League quarterfinals on Wednesday. Since it was an eight-team tournament, India were always assured of a place in the quarterfinals. However, in order to advance any further, India will require a monumental effort as they take on the world champions.
Indeed, India would be ruing Sardar Singh defensive error in the 68th minute against Germany. The resultant goal denied an Indian win, and with it a chance for a decidedly milder quarterfinal opponent in Argentina.
Against Germany, India benefitted from a side who were uncharacteristically giving away turnovers and passing slowly. While much of that would also be due to the fact that India were playing a hard-pressing game, their opponents’ obvious rustiness — they haven’t played or even practiced outdoors on account of the European winter for many weeks — means that the hosts could able to consistently bring to the table clever variations in their midfield.
Australia, in contrast, have showed few vulnerabilities in their own games. They started gingerly with a closely fought win against Belgium, followed with a 1-0 loss against the Netherlands. The latter scoreline, however, didn’t do justice to the domination they had enjoyed in the game. They had seven PCs and according to team statistics nearly twice the number of circle penetrations but were denied by a sensational game by the rival keeper Jaap Stockmann. In their most recent game against Argentina, they gave an account of just how irresistible they can be, outrunning and outplaying their extremely physical opponents 6-1.
With every game from here on a must win, India are likely to find an opponent who will be pressing themselves from the start.
“I went to the Junior World Cup and we got beaten in the quarterfinal so I know how tough that can be. This is just another final; we’ve pretty much got three finals in a row. We’re definitely taking it like the grand final,” says defender Daniel Beale, the youngest member of the Australian squad.
If Australia play to their ability, it will not be much of a contest. The side relentlessly attacks, has superior fitness. India’s attack has shown little ability to win goals in open play and their defence is prone to errors. One area in which both teams share a similar concern will be penalty corner conversion. India have scored 2 out of ten chances, one of those goals coming off a rebound. Australia have been even more profligate, they missed all their second game and only have three PC goals, all scored by Keiran Govers.
Germany, meanwhile, will renew their biggest European rivalry, with Netherlands. In other games, England play Belgium while Argentina, who punched above their world ranking to finish second in Group B, take on New Zealand.
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