World Cup Hockey: A litmus test for India against Belgium on Sunday

World Cup Hockey: A litmus test for India against Belgium on Sunday

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S. Thyagarajan

A flying start it was without a speck of doubt, but apart from hailing the 5-0 outcome against South Africa any excessive dose of commendation will acquire shades of exaggeration about India on the opening match on Wednesday in the 14th at World Cup at Bhubaneshwar.
True, the result warmed the cockles of the heart of many of the supporters and giving the players a good measure of confidence to face the challenges ahead.
But the commentators who critically dissected the encounter expressed misgivings over a few vulnerable areas that need to be ironed out before the team faces one of the squads in the line for the trophy-Belgium- on Sunday.
The main frailty noticed was in the execution of penalty corners. It was pointed out that of the five obtained only one ended in a goal, that too from the rebound. What they missed was variation. The system of execution looked monotonous, lacking in imagination and improvisation.
This is a very valid point that India has always been notorious for poor conversion of penalty corners after earning quite a few in majority of the matches it figures in. It is difficult to force many penalty corners against the top-rated teams that have perfected their defence techniques and goal keeping.
A large number of goal keepers these days are not easily overwhelmed by the power and variation of angles by the executors. For a long time the drag flick flummoxed many goal keepers but the level of athleticism by today is incredible. Usually, some spectacular saves are effected, with consummate ease.
This is not to say that the penalty corners today are mere futile attempts at goal. They still do determine the outcome of the match as the goal by Gonzalo Peillat did Argentina against Spain at 4-3. Undeniably field goals have their own charm when conceived and executed with skill. For the success in this method the essence is perfection at the finish. Several openings are frittered away by India rendering the efforts of the midfield ineffective execution at the all-important end.
India did suffer from this aberration in the tie against South Africa. The team should realize that top combinations like Belgium, our next opponent on Sunday, leave little, or no open space for the rival forwards space in their area.
But there is some logic in the assessment that the squad has a set of junior stars who are yet to grasp the mood of playing against the world’s best lot. A couple of more matches may help them to shape up better.
Playing the company of seniors like Sreejesh (goal-keeper), Birendra Lakra, Manpreet Singh and Akashdeep Singh will certainly tone up their approach work.
There is some consolation that apart from India no team won in a big way in the first two days. Belgium struggled to beat Canada by the odd goal three, and New Zealand could prevail over France, which is in the fray after a gap of 28 years by the odd goal in three. Olympic Champion, Argentina eared only a hard- fought win (4-3) over Spain in the final minutes. At least on two occasions during the encounter Spain was leading by a goal.
What the outcome will be like tomorrow for India against one of the most formidable combinations in the contemporary hockey falls in the realm of guess.
The Belgians have achieved some remarkable victories that made them the favourite for the gold at the last Olympic Games in Rio but they surprisingly lost to Argentina.
A win will be reckoned as a marvellous effort for the home team, and facilitate it reaching the last eight stage with distinction. Will this become a reality tomorrow?

Prem Trinitymirror

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