Hockey World Cup 2018: QF berth in sight as India meets Canada

India heads into the final Pool C fixture against Canada as the favourite to qualify for the quarterfinals in the 2018 Hockey World Cup.

India has a win and a draw from its two matches at the Hockey World Cup.   -  Getty Images

Last time India faced off against Canada, it lost 3-2 after leading 2-1, conceding two goals within five minutes in 2017. A year back, it was held to a 2-2 draw at the Rio Olympics. Not surprisingly, coach Paul Bundy isn’t reading too much into rankings or pool positions at the World Cup ahead of the teams’ face-off in their final Pool C game on Saturday.

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Neither is India coach Harendra Singh. “I have been saying for a long time and everybody should now agree with me. I spoke of China, Japan and France (as teams of the future). For me, in modern sports, specially team sports, rankings and numbers are only on paper. Every team that comes to a major tournament wants to play the last match of the tournament on the last day and smaller teams want to prove they deserve to be here,” he said on Friday.

Advantage India

On paper, India is favourite. The stands have been filling to capacity, the rankings put India six places higher and the team has both dominated an opposition (South Africa) and bounced back against another (Belgium). The structure, specially in defence, has held up despite immense pressure. The host also has a four-goal advantage over second-placed Belgium despite being tied on points. But it cannot rely on any of this.

Canada has a fantastic defensive structure as well and coach Bundy had no qualms admitting his team was opportunistic. “We have a great work ethic, we are very gritty, opportunistic in getting those chances on counters, have a great PC unit and some good forwards too. If we can put some pressure, keep the game close till the end, we can keep the crowd quiet and start doing a lot of thinking,” Bundy said and his skipper Scott Tupper concurred.

India coach Harendra Singh insists rankings matter little in team sports in the current era. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

 

Misfiring strikers

Upfront, India has the better strikers but they have been off-target in the initial moments of the game, missing chances and failing to get the early opening goal. Those misses might prove costly. Attack is the mantra for the team but against Canada, India would have to be on its guard. “They will keep waiting and then take a chance on that one counter they manage. They will not give space. But we cannot go into a defensive mode,” Harendra warned.

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Five days is a long time in modern hockey and such a long break is unheard of for a long time now. On Saturday, when the Indian team steps out against Canada, it would be hoping to ensure that the momentum gained last Sunday would continue as the host looks to finish on top of the pool and qualify for the quarterfinals.

The schedule: Belgium vs South Africa (5pm), India vs Canada (7pm).