On Sunday, the first of three rest days in the tournament, teams at the Hero Hockey World League teams worked on aspects of the game they felt they were lacking in. Like last-minute studies before a big test, the value of the light training ahead of a match day is debatable. However, most teams, in particular drag flickers who have had a poor time of it so far, took to the two pitches at the National Stadium.
The home team, however, decided to skip their scheduled field session. Ahead of a high-profile clash against Olympic champions and world No.1 Germany, they instead had an indoor briefing.
To be fair, India’s problems don’t seem to be on the pitch. India aren’t the only team who have lost both their opening games — Belgium too have had similar results. But the latter team have been competitive in both their games. India’s results — 2-0 defeat to England and a 3-1 humbling against New Zealand — have been against sides they had soundly beaten a little more than a year ago at the Champions Trophy. The results over the last couple of days could be understood, even forgiven, if they were due to the opponents’ superior skill or strategy. Instead, it is India who have made rudimentary mistakes. India coach Terry Walsh had been blunt after the second loss.
“Our performance was sub-standard and unacceptable. We play well in training but when it comes to performing under pressure we falter,” he had said. “We are making a lot of errors in executing our basic skills. We were horrible with our penalty corner conversions. It is very frustrating to see the team missing scoring opportunities,” he said. Indeed, India are 0-6 in terms of penalty corner conversions. Some were taken against rules and several haven’t been trapped at all. The defence has given away possession consistently when trying to find the forward lines and even at times when passing to each other. The midfield, which carries the most experience on the bench, has indeed been creating chances and putting together creative pieces of play, but forwards have been caught either holding the ball for too long or shooting too early.
“Our confidence level is low. A lot of the game is about confidence and these results accelerate the loss of confidence,” Terry Walsh had said after the loss against New Zealand.
It’s uncertain what legitimate expectations can be held ahead of the Germany game. Certainly not a win and even a draw seems unlikely. But Walsh’s hopes ahead of the tournament were modest. He had hoped to use the event as a way to measure where the team were physiologically and in terms of handling pressure and evaluate where they are as a team. And as such even a solid game against Germany with limited errors would be a positive.
Germany, on the other hand, won’t be interested in giving any favours. After thrashing New Zealand 6-1 in their opening game, they were stunned 1-2 at the hands of England on Saturday. England’s coach Bobby Crutchly had expressed surprise at the result and had said Germany wouldn’t play as poorly again and that the side had a habit of peaking towards the business end of tournaments. The result would in fact serve as a timely wake-up call for the team. Germany’s coach Markus Weise had already made his intentions clear that they would play for a win against India. “We are disappointed with our performance (against England) but we are hoping for a good show in the next game. Our next game is with India and we will play to win,” he had said.
While a win or a loss doesn’t really matter with respect to teams making the quarterfinals — they all will — it will impact who plays who in the knockouts. The lowest ranked team in the tournament, Argentina, have upset Netherlands and Belgium and will look to set up a clash against the lowest ranked team in Group A — probably India — with a win or draw against Australia. England, meanwhile, will be the surprise toppers of group A if they get the better of New Zealand. Netherlands play Belgium in the other league clash.
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