Hosts Face The Dutch As They Try To Make Semis After 43
Except for a partisan crowd at the Kalinga Stadium, there isn’t much — in terms of history at least — going for India ahead of their World Cup quarterfinal against the Netherlands. India have never made it past the quarterfinal stage in the World Cup since 1975, they have never beaten the Dutch in a World Cup game and, in terms of experience, the present team scores over the Indian side in almost every playing position.
But, by their own admission, this young and confident team likes to read history. On pitch, they believe in creating it. Impossible is not a word Harendra Singh’s boys utter. Instead, their focus is on winning the elusive trophy, which critics think is improbable.
If Manpreet Singh and his boys are to make Thursday a time of firsts, they will have to match their skill with consistency.
Three-time champions Netherlands are operating at the top of their game. It’s an attractive, perhaps even ruthless, brand of hockey. Opposition mistakes rarely go unpunished and they have attacked from the get-go. Through their four matches here, they have made 136 circle penetrations, scored 18 goals and had 25 attempts on goal. No other team in the competition has a better attacking statistical record.
Can India’s young side counter the opposition’s skill and planning? Yes. The Indians play a similar brand of hockey. The Dutch are the pioneers of total hockey, but the Indians have been staunch practitioners. Chief coach Harendra Singh has preached total hockey and has repeatedly stressed on the need for players to perform across positions. India have done fairly well so far. Save Belgium, they haven’t really been tested.
Execution and holding nerves in check will be key. And in that respect, India must begin with the backline. Against the 2016 Olympic runners-up Belgium, India conceded a fourth-quarter goal and were forced to settle for a draw. The experienced, but temperamental Birendra Lakra and the rest of the defence will have to be on their toes. More so because the Dutch have skipper Billy Bakker and Seve van Haas, two livewires packing the midfield and the team’s flair lies in dribbling and a lot of passes.
Conserving energy will also be crucial given the tempo at which the sides play. The Dutch certainly don’t believe in taking their foot off the pedal. A case in point is their crossovers match against Canada on Tuesday. With a comfortable 4-0 cushion and less than three minutes for the final hooter, they scored on the counter with quicksilver speed and surgical precision.
The only chink in the decorated Dutch armour has been their penalty corner conversions. Of the 25 penalty corners they have earned in four matches so far, they have converted only four. India have averaged better with four out of their 12 goals coming from penalty corners.
With a five-day break between their last pool match and Thursday’s game, Harendra and his team of coaches have been working overtime to iron out the edges. Mandeep Singh, along with Simranjeet Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Lalit Upadhyay, will hold the key to India’s success in the attack. If they succeed, expect a cracker of a contest.
UNITED WE STAND:
Indian team trains on the eve of the quarterfina