A young and inexperienced India will be eyeing a big win over Ireland here on Friday to keep alive its slim hopes of qualifying for the final of the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament and also hope for favourable results in the other matches.
After a below-par outing in the first three matches, India rekindled its hopes by registering its first win of the tournament on Wednesday, mauling host Malaysia 5-1.
Before the win, India had earlier lost 2-3 to Olympic champion Argentina, lost 2-4 against world champion Australia and drew 1-1 against England.
World champion Australia is already through to the final, with four wins from as many games. Barring Ireland, all other four teams have a chance to make it to the summit clash.
Australia is leading the points table with 12 points ahead of second-placed and Olympic champion Argentina (7 points), Malaysia (6), England (5) and India (4). Ireland is already out of the race with four consecutive defeats.
However, India’s fate depends on a lot of permutations and combinations. As for the final, it will first have to beat Ireland by a big margin and hope Australia beat Argentina. Also, the final round robin match between Malaysia and England needs to end in a draw for India to get through to the final.
With four big-ticket events lined up in 2018, including the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, the Indians have opted to field a young and inexperienced side under veteran Sardar Singh.
India chief coach, Sjoerd Marijne, wanted to test all his options before deciding on his squads for the big tournaments. And as expected, the Indians took time to get their game going in the tournament. Marijne’s boys looked erratic in the first three games, before dishing out their best display against Malaysia.
Agianst Malaysia, Shilanand Lakra, Gurjant Singh, Sumit Kumar and Ramandeep Singh scored and Marijne would be hoping for the same spark from his forwards on Friday.
Skipper Sardar, in particular, needs to produce an inspiring performance as an ordinary show in the tournament could well draw the curtains on his illustrious career.
This could well be the make or break tournament for Sardar, if he wants to prolong his career till the 2020 Olympics, as the team management has already shown its interest on the younger legs, keeping in mind the busy year ahead.
India plays its match second on Friday, and by then, its fate would be known as Australia and Argentina square off in the day’s opener. England and Malaysia will lock horns in the final round robin match on Friday.
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