Confident India aspires to rise to Australian challenge

A victory over Australia tomorrow would put India into the final of the Champions Trophy, something it has not achieved so far, but even a draw could boost its prospects of making the title encounter.

Indian players celebrate a goal against South Korea on Tuesday.   -  Getty Images

A first-time entry into the final at stake, a confident India would aspire to rise to the challenge of taking on Australia in its last league outing of the 36th Hero Champions Trophy here on Thursday.

India was beaten by four goals in two encounters against Australia in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Ipoh (Malaysia) two months ago, but will be eager to produce a better show against the reigning world champions, which has already secured its place in the title match, at the Lee Valley Hockey Centre.

World No. 1 Australia prevailed 5-1 in its league fixture of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup against India and then, when the teams again met in the final, the dominant side from Down Under triumphed 4-0.

India is drawing inspiration from its victory last year in a Test match at home, ahead of the World League Finals in Raipur.

India's most notable performance against Australia recently was in the 2015 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where striker Nikkin Thimmaiah's hat-trick spurred the team to victory, but that was an experimental Australian team.

Ahead of the Olympic Games, Australia has fielded a very strong side here, but are in a dilemma over penalty corner shooter Chris Ciriello's fitness.

"The match against Australia is a very tough outing. We have to produce our best performance to put up a good contest," said Indian coach Roelant Oltmans, who is happy to see the Indians stay in the hunt for a medal.

"A medal at the Champions Trophy was the target we set ourselves when we set off for London. I'm happy that our game has improved with every tournament," said Oltmans.

Australia is heading the round-robin league standings with 10 points from four outings, followed by India on seven from four matches.

A victory over Australia tomorrow would put India into the final of the Champions Trophy, something it has not achieved so far, but even a draw could boost its prospects of making the title encounter.

Great Britain and Belgium are the other teams that can win their last league match to edge out India from the final. These two teams will clash in the last league engagement and will have the luxury of playing after the Australia-India fixture.

Britain is currently on five points and Belgium are on four. If Australia defeats India, hosts Britain will just need a win over Belgium to overtake India on points, but Belgium too can finish second on goal difference if it prevails in this match.

Belgium's hope rests on improving its goal difference and will wait to see if India concedes too many goals to Australia.

A draw between Britain and Belgium would clear India's passage to the final.

If India is able to keep the Australian strikers at bay and do not concede too many goals, it can still finish second in the league standings despite a loss to the world's top-ranked side. In this case, it will be keenly watching the match featuring Belgium and Britain.

India's only previous medal in the history of the Champions Trophy was a bronze it won way back in 1982 at Amsterdam.

To be able to match Australia, the Indian defenders will need to polish its act and the strikers have to improve their finishing. In Tuesday's 2-1 victory over South Korea that kept India in the medal contention, the strikers repeatedly lost their way after breaking into rival territory.

"We'll have to put up a much better exhibition of hockey. Yesterday, the strikers were more excited than needed," said Oltmans.

Irrespective of having already clinched a place in the final, Australia coach Graham Reid is not going to take the foot off the pedal. "Do you expect any Australian coach to do that?" Reid said when asked if the Australians may play a relaxed game in its last league outing.

"The Indians seem to be playing their best hockey for a while," said Reid as he made plans for the match.

Reid is not sure of fielding Ciriello in tomorrow's match, allowing his crack shooter adequate rest with the Olympic Games less than two months away.

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