India up against dominant Dutch after 12 years

The Dutch have won every game they have played India in World Cup, six times in all.

The only time the two teams have faced off in a knockout round of the World Cup was way back in 1973, when Netherlands edged past India on penalties.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

The 16 men stepping out on the turf at the Kalinga Stadium on Thursday would be up against not just their opponents but the weight of form, rankings and history. India takes on the Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the Hockey World Cup here.

The Dutch have won every game they have played India in World Cup, six times in all. In fact, after 2006, the teams have never met — clubbed in separate groups with Netherlands always finishing in the top-two to qualify for the medal rounds and India bringing up the rear.

That game 12 years back saw India thrashed 6-1. The lone scorer was Dilip Tirkey, now a key member of the organising committee here but surprisingly, all the Dutch goals were off penalty corners or stroke, Taeke Taekema scoring five of them.

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What makes the situation even more interesting is that the Dutch have been struggling with their penalty corners through the tournament this time around.

India, though, has been insisting the past holds little value in a changed world. While the opposition remains as dominant as ever, the Indian team has changed in every way. Improved fitness, use of scientific methods and technology has reduced the gap as far as training is concerned. The team is younger and skilled enough to trouble any team on its day. What hasn’t changed, however, is the ability of the Dutch to step up under pressure in big tournaments.

The recent past also holds out hope for India. The teams played out a 1-1 draw at the Champions Trophy earlier this year, India lost 1-3 at the World League Semifinals last year but won in shootouts at the World League Finals in 2015. That game saw a capacity crowd roaring India back into the game every time it trailed, playing the ideal 12th man.

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In the ongoing competition, India would be hoping to pick up lessons from the way Germany dismantled Holland in the pool stage but also realise that its defense and goalkeeping would need tightening to deny the Dutch. India would also have to guard against being profligate upfront and conceding turnovers.

The team has admitted the final pass is a concern, as is the push during penalty corners, areas that the team would have done well to iron out in the four days it had to prepare. That Holland had to play an extra game, against Canada, to reach here might also make a difference in terms of the freshness of players but could easily go the other way in terms of momentum.

The only time the two teams have faced off in a knockout round of the World Cup was way back in 1973, when Netherlands edged past India on penalties in the final for its maiden title. The stakes are as high and Harendra Singh would be hoping his boys-turned-men step up to the challenge.

Schedule: Quarterfinals: Germany vs Belgium (5 pm), India vs Holland (7 pm)