Having eked out an unconvincing 3-2 win over France in their campaign opener, the Indian men’s side will have to quickly pull up their socks, especially in defence, when they take on lower-ranked Poland in their second group match of the World League Semifinals on Tuesday. India needed a last-gasp goal to emerge victorious in their first match on Saturday as their defence struggled and the Frenchmen exploited the gaps to launch several attacks.
The Sardar Singh-led side will have to produce an improved show if they want to maintain a winning momentum.
Poland are ranked 17 in the world, eight spots behind India, but they have the potential to pull off a surprise win.
Like France, the Polish also have some speedy strikers who can mount brisk counters, as they displayed against Pakistan, and the Indian defence will have to make amends for their erratic show in the opening match.
Captain Sardar Singh was fully aware that his side cannot lower their guard against Poland. “You cannot take any rival likely. The world rankings do not matter when you step on to the field,” said Sardar, hoping the young members of his team would have gained by the experience against France as newcomer Devinder Walmiki scored an opportunistic goal. India were though handicapped to some extent by the absence of their two drag-flickers, VR Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh. Raghunath was one of the three players dropped from the squad due to injuries suffered in the training camp ahead of this tournament.
Rupinder, who was to be rested from this event, came in as a replacement for Raghunath, but did not play the opening match due to an injury sustained in the warm-up matches leading up to the tournament. There is little at stake for the Indian team in the current tournament as they have assured spots in the 2016 Olympic Games as well as the World League Finals later in the year, but Sardar said the players want to do well here as any other team.
“We may have already qualified for the Olympics, but we certainly want to perform well going into the World League Finals that India will host later in the year. We want to do well here as much as any other team,” he said.India’s chief coach Paul van Ass is hopeful the defence will put up a much-improved show compared to the match against France, who repeatedly managed to cause problems through penetrative bursts.
Trying to impart new strategies to his wards, Van Ass is expected to again use this outing for some more experiments ahead of the tougher encounters against subcontinent rivals Pakistan and reigning world champions Australia.
The ongoing World League Semifinals offers three spots in the Olympic lineup. For several teams it is the last chance to make it to Rio Olympics, while India have already secured their passage by virtue of winning the Asian Games gold medal at Incheon last year.
Three spots are also available for the World League Finals for which India are automatic qualifiers as hosts, allowing the Sardar-led side the luxury of trying out some young players and new strategies under new chief coach Paul van Ass.
India are the only team here to have already secured a passage to Rio Games, but Sardar asserted they are not mere tourists and have a lot to play for in the ongoing Hockey World League Semifinals. “We are not tourists at this tournament, certainly not,” said Sardar.
Indian women’s hockey coach Mathias Ahrens said the team should not only maximise ball possession but also convert it into goals when they take on New Zealand in a pool match of the World League Semifinals on Tuesday.
India, who suffered a 0-1 loss to hosts Belgium in their first Group B outing, have a lot at stake and only an improved show can revive their chances of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“We must value the possession after working hard to earn it,” said Ahrens, who only recently took up the assignment with the Indian women’s team. “The loss in the first match was disappointing, but we take a lot of positives into the next game,” he added.
The coach insisted that the girls failed to grab their chances in the last outing.
“The players can do much better. I think fitness wise they were up to the challenge and they worked hard in the field. We should have made the possession count. We had our chances, but could not convert them into goals,” said
Ahrens. It would be an uphill task for India against world No. 4 New Zealand, who started this tournament with a 12-0 thumping of Poland on Saturday.
The Black Sticks had prevailed 4-1 over India in their last encounter at the recent Hawke’s Bay Cup in New Zealand. But Ahrens said that the “Indian eves should belief in their ability.”