Since 1975, India have not tasted the sweet delight of being termed as a Hockey World Cup semifinalist. As coach Harendra Singh-led Indian side face off against Netherlands on Thursday in the quarterfinals, a historic opportunity is on the line.
But, in an almost ‘Inception’ like concept of “dream-within-a-dream”, India will have to create a history within a history to extend their stay at the tournament. In six previous World Cup meetings between the two teams, India have never beaten Netherlands. But this time, the hosts could have a few advantages up their sleeves.
While the Dutch have always been known to be a quality opposition in penalty corners, it has not exactly turned out to be the same at the ongoing World Cup in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Even the Indian coach pegged it as one of Netherlands’ ‘grey areas’ at the press conference on Wednesday.
“When we analyse the match – we do not only focus on our strong points. We also take a look at opposition’s grey areas. Yes, the Dutch have not been their best in penalty corners this tournament,” he said.
The coach, however, said that India could not ignore the threat altogether. “But we cannot outright ignore Netherlands. Their hockey base is on the penalty corners. They can still be dangerous at that. Who knows, what if their set pieces come off against us. We know this challenge will come, and we are ready to solve. For me, the best way to defend a PC is no PC,” he added.
Netherlands have scored 18 goals in the tournament, out of which 16 have been field goals while only two have been converted from the set pieces. Against Germany, the Dutch were pretty wasteful in the set-pieces, missing out four PC’s which eventually cost them the match. Against Canada, the Oranje once again had to rely on five field goals, while wasting five from the set-pieces, including a penalty stroke.
On the other hand, India have shown remarkable improvements in set-pieces. The fact that five out of their 12 goals have been set-pieces is an indication of the same. Singh said it is one of the things being discussed by the core group and the coaching staff.
“Yes, there have been improvement on the set pieces. No one can avoid set-pieces in hockey, basketball and soccer. Netherlands also have quality in set-pieces, it is just not working for them, but working for us. This contribution is not mine – it is by Chris Cirello and the rest of the coaching staff. The core group of the team have also been responsible for this improvement as we take inputs based on their mutual consensus,” he said.
Another unexpected move from the Indian camp came in the Canada clash when Harmanpreet Singh took over the rush goalkeeping duties for a while to add an additional player up front. So far, the Netherlands have not used a similar strategy.
The Indian coach stressed that it is a strategy confident teams can use to boost up the attack. “I welcome the move to use a rush goalie. It shows confidence in a team, and they can throw one or two strikers in opponent’s half. And it allows us to create the space and opportunity to create the goal. Whichever team is choosing to do so, I welcome the move. I am totally happy to remove the goalkeeper,” he said.
Netherlands have also had to replace defender Sander de Wijn a day before the clash due to an injury. It could also provide India an undue mental advantage in which both teams hope to go forward with an attacking mindset. But the Dutch coach believes De Wijn’s absence does not cause any issues to the team. He also pegged down the worries about playing amid a loud Indian crowd on Thursday, saying his side is used to doing the same.
Despite the 48-33 record in favour of Netherlands, the contest between the two sides is expected to be a closer contest than on previous occasions the two teams have faced in the World Cup.