A litmus test awaits India in their second pool match of the men’s hockey World Cup Sunday and chief coach Harendra Singh said he considers the game against world no.3 Belgium as a virtual “pre-quarterfinal” for the home team.
India are placed in Pool C alongside reigning Olympic silver medallist Belgium, South Africa and Canada and the table toppers will directly qualify for the last-eight round.
With India notching up a 5-0 win over South Africa in their opener and Belgium beating Canada 2-1, the hosts just need a victory over the Red Lions to secure their place in the quarters and avoid the cross-overs.
As per the format of the tournament, the table-toppers from the four pools will directly qualify for the quarterfinals while the second and third placed teams will play in the cross-overs for a place in the last-eight round.
“I don’t feel any pressure. If you enjoy that pressure you will succeed. What I feel is that for me tomorrow is our pre-quarterfinal match and if we want to directly go into the quarterfinals we will have to win tomorrow,” Harendra said in the pre-match press conference on Saturday.
“We have discussed that in our team meeting and we will take one match at a time.”
Since 2013, India do not have a good record against Belgium, having won just five and suffered defeats on 13 occasions with one game ending in a draw.
Asked about Belgium’s threat, Harendra said India need to play to its strength to come out victorious on Sunday.
“If we look at their graph in the last 4-5 years, Belgium is a good team. We have to play according to the situation,” he said.
“In the last 5-6 months the Indian team has set a trademark of playing attacking hockey which is our weapon and we won’t compromise on that.”
Speaking about the areas that India need to guard against Belgium on Sunday, the India coach said: “We need to take care about the vertical hockey Belgium plays. They don’t play parallel hockey of playing the ball back. So, we need to concentrate on that.”
Harendra said the World Cup is a new tournament for his team and past results will hardly have any impact.
“I don’t think about past. I never focussed on mistakes of past but what we do is point out the good things we have done in the past matches. Past is history. Every tournament you have to look it in a new way as new chapter,” he said.
“Our fault is we discuss a lot about the past but are not willing to live in the present moment. We tend to destroy our future by discussing about past.
“Tomorrow is a new day, a new tournament, a new team, a new World Cup which is being watched and blessed by 15,000 spectators at home.”
Harendra said the Indians don’t look at the crowd support as pressure, instead he considers them as “12th man”.
“The crowd is our 12th man. Many teams (opponents) can feel the pressure. We should take advantage of that,” he said.
Striker Akashdeep Singh, who has been entrusted with the new role of a linkman in the side, said he is enjoying his new position.
“I am enjoying my new role. When the coach joined us he suggested me to drop a little down and play as an attacking midfielder because I have a good vision and I share a good understanding with other strikers,” he said.