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Friday, September 24, 2021

Tokyo 2020: Holding nerve key in men’s hockey quarter-final against Great Britain

The forward line, which lacks experience, has been under scrutiny ever since the team was announced. And while they’ve done decently well so far, their task will be cut out against a stubborn British defence.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Tokyo |
Updated: August 1, 2021 2:27:00 pm
India vs Great Britain hockey, India vs Great Britain quarter final, Tokyo olympics men hockey quarter finalManpreet Singh-led India are high on confidence with consecutive wins in group stage (AP Photo)

For the men’s team, it’ll all be in the mind.

Great Britain might not induce the same level of fear in the Indian camp as, say, Germany or the Netherlands, but the Indian men’s team will have to produce an error-free performance to guarantee their first Olympic semifinal in 49 years. This is India’s first semifinal since the 1972 Games, given that the 1980 campaign had an incomplete field due to the boycotts.

In the last few years, India has found itself on the cusp of a pathbreaking win several times. But on each occasion, one error at an inopportune time or a silly foul leading to a temporary suspension has left them frustrated and disappointed.

For instance, in the quarterfinal of the 2018 World Cup, a yellow card to defender Amit Rohidas gave the Netherlands an advantage, which they made full use of. The same year, at the Asian Games, former captain Sardar Singh’s poor tackle led to a card that eventually helped Malaysia claw their way back into the match, before winning it.

So when India take on Britain in Sunday’s quarterfinal, it’ll all boil down to how the players handle the crunch moments. Coach Graham Reid had laid extra emphasis on this aspect during the national camp.

He’s improved India’s ability to be strong on the ball under pressure and remain patient when the opponents pack their ‘D’ with defenders, a strategy Britain are likely to adopt.

Eye on defence

After the 7-1 thumping at the hands of Australia, India have recovered well to win the next three games. They dished out dominating performances against Argentina and Spain, two tricky opponents, but the defence looked a bit iffy in the other three games, especially against Japan.

Drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh could be India’s main man in the match both for his abilities on penalty corners as well as his role in defence. But it will be the responsibility of the forwards to create penalty corner situations for India, especially since they have looked a bit shy in the attacking third.

The forward line, which lacks experience, has been under scrutiny ever since the team was announced. And while they’ve done decently well so far, their task will be cut out against a stubborn British defence.

Ultimately for India, it’ll all boil down to whether they can hold their nerve. Reid has shown enough faith in the team’s ability to reach the last four, a milestone that has been eluding India for the last four decades. Against Britain, they have an opportunity to end that dubious streak.

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