HWL Finals: India hopes to tie all loose ends together

A team in disarray takes on dominant Belgium in the Hockey World League Finals in Bhubaneswar.

India will be hoping to bounce back against Belgium on Wednesday.   -  PTI

A day after India, running around like headless chicken, capitulated to Germany, the team management cancelled its scheduled training session on Tuesday. It didn’t do so with an advance plan, though. It first decided to have an in-camera practice on the morning before cancelling it altogether 10 minutes later.

The uncertainty was symptomatic of India’s problems on field at the Hockey World League Finals here. India is trying a system it is not used to, coach Sjoerd Marijne has relegated responsibility to the players to decide how they want to play and the net result has been a team seemingly in disarray. Amidst all this, the team would take on a dominant Belgium in the quarterfinals on Wednesday hoping it would all come together at crunch.

That would take some doing. Olympic silver medallist Belgium, along with Germany, has been the best team on display so far in the competition, in every department, and remains unbeaten. It has found a new hero in every game with Loick Luypaert leading the charge, it has conceded least goals and scored the most and it has stuck to a plan that has paid off. India has done exactly the opposite of it all and struggled.

 

INDIA'S RECORD AGAINST BELGIUM

ParticularsMatches PlayedWinsLossesDrawGoal ForGoal Against
Total72451710192113
In HWL303017
In Bhubaneswar110042
Last 151531201934

# Last played: Boom Test Match; Aug 2017; lost 1-3

# Last win: Duseeldorf invitation tourney; Jul 2017; 3-2

                                                                    -- B. G. Joshi    

 

Despite enjoying a better overall record – 45 wins, 17 losses and 10 draws in 72 games – India has been hopelessly outplayed in the last 15 face-offs against Belgium with 12 losses including in the last two outings. The only solace would be the only game played between the two sides at this ground, three years back, went in India's favour.

The slide has hasn't escaped notice. Recently retired Australia star Simon Orchard said as much. “Unfortunately the Indian men are getting worse at hockey,” he tweeted. Belgium international Tanguy Cosyns, not here because of a knee injury, agreed. It took a long time over the past few years for the national side to have some semblance of structure. Now, suddenly, the team seems to be missing a stabilising factor under pressure.

Captain Manpreet Singh is one of the seniors but he too seems to be struggling. Rupinderpal Singh is still rusty on return from injury. SV Sunil continues to believe he can outrun the ball and remains stranded when it actually happens. These are the senior guys. The juniors aren’t exactly wet behind the ears either but have played like that.

Someone like a Sardar Singh or PR Sreejesh is being sorely missed.

“We respect Belgium but if you have to win tournaments and get to the top you have to win against all teams. At the moment, we are trying to connect the dots and it’s taking some time. But believe me, this team will do it,” Marijne said.

That’s very similar to the ‘have patience’ successive Indian coaches have pleaded. But patience isn't a luxury Indian coaches enjoy. One of the reasons for bringing in Marijne was the demand for quick results ahead of what would be a crucial, packed 2018. “What matters is execution. It's about who scores most goals. It's about winning the match,” the coach added. For the team's sake, one would hope the winning begins on Wednesday.

Spain beats Argentina

Spain earned a penalty stroke 90 seconds from time and ensured it wouldn't be wasted, winning its final league match 2-1 against Argentina after trailing by a goal till the final ten minutes to finish at second spot in Pool A and set up a quarterfinal match against defending champion Australia. Table-topper Belgium remained unbeaten with a 3-0 win against Netherlands in the other game of the day, the result making little difference to their positions on the league table as the quarterfinal line-ups were finalised. Argentina would take on Germany while Netherlands would face England.

The results (Pool A): Spain 2 (Pau Quemada, Josep Romeu) bt Argentina 1 (Matias Paredes); Belgium 3 (Loick Luypaert 2, Tom Boon) bt Netherlands 0.

Wednesday's schedule (quarterfinals): Spain vs Australia (5.15 pm), India vs Belgium (7.30 pm).

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