The Indian men’s hockey team would be up against its own objectives rather than the opposition when it takes on Uzbekistan in its last Pool A match of the Hockey Series Finals here on Monday.
The fifth-ranked host would be up against the 43rd ranked minnows but while coach Graham Reid would have little to worry about in terms of the result per se, it is the various sub-plots and plans that he would be concerned about. In the two games India has played so far, the team has swung between brilliant and below par with Reid trying to come to terms with the extremes.
Tepid performances from his players, specially the strikers, during the first two games has been an area of concern for Reid. What has also been worrying is the inability of the forwards to score despite creating chances galore. The likes of Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh and a fit-again Ramandeep Singh would have to take more responsibility.
Ensuring the players stick to the structure and not get complacent about the opposition would also be on Reid’s radar, trying to fine-tune the team’s plans before the knockout games.
With the two Pool toppers getting direct entry into the semi-finals, India is unlikely to have much trouble reaching there. The other two semi-final spots would be taken up after cross-over games between the second and third placed sides from each Pool.
On Sunday, Russia upset higher-ranked Poland 3-2 to leapfrog into second spot in Pool A, behind India. The Poles, who only had to ensure a draw to stay ahead of their neighbour, were stunned by Russia’s aggressive play from the start mixed with stubborn defence that allowed no space to score.
Polish coach Karol Sniezek had anticipated a European face-off but would be disappointed with the result which would put his team in a difficult playoff for a semi-final spot.
With USA taking on Asian Games champion Japan in the battle for top spot in Pool B and direct qualification for semi-finals, Poland would have to face-off the loser of that match to stay in the race and keep its Olympic dreams alive. South Africa would square off against Mexico in another Pool B game.
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