Neither India nor Italy took to the field to practice on Thursday but it would be quite clear that there would have been plenty of head scratching,at least for the hosts,ahead of their crucial match. The equations for the two sides in the final round of league matches in the Olympic Qualifiers are clear. With two victories and as many draws,Italy,a side ranked 19th in the world,have 8 points and need a draw while 13th ranked India,one point behind,have no option but to go for the win or watch the Olympics from home.
It is a do-or-die match. We will try to win it at any cost and that too by a big margin, Indian coach CRKumar said. Indeed India will have to do the heavy lifting in their match. It is a prospect that is fraught with danger. Even if India manage to plug some of the holes in their defense that the 5-2 debacle against South Africa highlighted,their game plan will still be precisely the ones the Europeans would want to play.
In their games so far,the Italians have packed their defense,outnumbering any attackers that venture,committing few errors and surprising their opponents with the counter. It is a strategy whilst far from aesthetic is decidedly effective. Doriana Palladino with 6 of the 9 goals the Italians have scored in the tournament,has made the most of any space conceded and will be the player India will have to mark constantly.
However,what will give India hope is the fact that their opponents have been ragged in conceding the penalty corners. Nine chances were gifted to South Africa and it was only the combination of bad luck and the absence of specialist Pietie Coetzee for the latter that prevented the 1-1 scoreline from being far worse. India on the other hand have been steadily improving in winning and scoring off PCs. They won 6 chances and converted a respectable two. India will also know that they have had a lot of chances which they have failed to put away and will be hoping on Friday everything will come together.