By Saumojyoti S Choudhury
New Delhi, Jan 14: The morale-boosting draw against Olympic champions Germany has done a world of good to their confidence as hosts India face a Herculean task when they square off with World Champions Australia in the quarterfinals of the Hero Hockey World League Final, here tomorrow.
After back-to-back defeats against higher-ranked England and New Zealand in their opening two Pool A games, a struggling India gave the home fans something to cheer about and dished out a spirited performance to hold world number one Germany to a 3-3 draw at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium yesterday.
If India’s opening two outings were horrible in terms of performance, they came up with much-improved performance in their last pool match to hold the mighty Germans. Unlike their previous two games, the Indians looked far more organised and co-ordinated in both attack and defence against Germany. Sardar and Co were a better side on display throughout the match yesterday.
Had it not been for a late defensive lapse from skipper Sardar, India could have stunned Germany last night. The Indian midfield and the forward line combined well to create a number of opportunities, which were missing in the first two games against England and New Zealand.
The defence, which is India’s perennial problem, too lived upto the expectations to deny Germany any major inroads. And come tomorrow, India would be hoping for a repeat performance, if not better, to give themselves a chance against the Kookaburras, coached by legendary Ric Charlesworth.
But one thing which will continue to haunt India’s chief coach Terry Walsh is the ordinary showing of his dragflickers. Inspite of having three specialist dragflickers in the team in VR Raghunath, Rupinderpal Singh and Amit Rohitdas, India have not been upto the mark with penalty corner conversions so far in the eight-nation event.
But if they are harbouring any such hopes of shocking Australia, the home team cannot afford to waste any scoring chance that comes their way. India’c chief coach Walsh, an Australian national, would also be relying on his knowledge about the Australian players to give his side an edge in the contest.
But it is easier said than done as of late the Kookaburras are a far superior side than the Indians in all aspects of the game. Having defeated Belgium by a narrow 3-2 margin in their tournament opener, Australia lost 0-1 at the hands of Netherlands in their next game.
But Charlesworth’s boys regained their confidence back with a 6-1 thumping of Argentina to make their intentions clear that they are not here just to make numbers. One of the pre-tournament favourites, Australia would be a tough nut to crack for past masters India, who are struggling to get their footing back in world hockey.
India’s coach Walsh is fully aware about the enormity of the task at hands for his side. ”Australia are a very high quality team and it will be a big challenge for us to keep ourselves organised and create a match,” Walsh had said. ”But we will try to give our best.”
India captain Sardar Singh too agreed with his coach. ”The boys are motivated after the draw against Germany. But it will be a different game against Australia and we will try to give our best in the pitch. Our focus would be on cutting down on our mistakes,” Sardar said.
Meanwhile in the other quarterfinals of the day, England will play Belgium, Germany will lock horns against Netherlands and Argentina will face New Zealand. PTI