Hockey World Cup 2018: Reputation and rankings matter zilch on this stage, says Harendra Singh

When the Indian team steps out on the turf at the Kalinga Stadium for its World Cup opener against South Africa on Wednesday, it would be aware of all the contrasting emotions that have come to symbolise Indian hockey over the years – pressure, expectations, hope, disappointment and, most of all, history.

Harendra Singh during a training session with the Indian team at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.   -  Uthra Ganesan

When the Indian team steps out on the turf at the Kalinga Stadium for its World Cup opener against South Africa on Wednesday, it would be aware of all the contrasting emotions that have come to symbolise Indian hockey over the years – pressure, expectations, hope, disappointment and, most of all, history.

Coach Harendra Singh, however, has been trying to temper them all and keep his boys focused on the actual job at hand – play the games, one match at a time, and move ahead through the tournament forgetting the rest. By his own admission it won’t be easy and that is one of the reasons he is keen on getting three points from the opening game.

Never underestimate

“I will never underestimate any opponent. The women’s Hockey World Cup and the football World Cup both showed that reputation and rankings matter zilch on this stage. No pundit gave Ireland (women) or Croatia a chance to reach the final. What I can and will do is focus on one opponent at a time plan accordingly and hope the team executes it on the field on that day,” Harendra told Sportstar on Monday, the last rest day for the team initially but then decided to have light drills at the ground.

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He however, has done his homework about the other Pool C teams and knows what needs to be done in the three league matches before the knockouts. “Belgium clearly will be the toughest. They have been playing well for the last 4-5 years and, most importantly, have been together since 2007-08 so there is great understanding in the team. At the same time, they play open hockey, something that suits Indian style and gives equal opportunities to both sides. Any team that scores first and manages to hold on till the end will be the winner there but it will be a great game of hockey for sure,” he explained.

Indian players will be hoping to get off to a good start against South Africa.   -  Uthra Ganesan

 

Nemesis

Canada, he admitted, has always been a thorn in India’s side and with a tight defensive structure, gives few chances to score and depends on counter-attacks. “We cannot afford to miss chances against Canada, you won’t get too many to score. It will become tougher if you allow them to score first because then there is no way they will allow you in. Converting every single opportunity will be the key,” he said.

But the momentum for all that would be set on Wednesday, against South Africa. “They are a good balanced side. Austin Smith is very experienced and holds their defence together brilliantly, plus they have some youngsters who are very quick. We cannot allow them the speed or space to run around neither can we let them get defensive. It will be a tight match for sure, we cannot take them lightly,” Harendra said.

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Lessons learnt

But the team has learnt its lessons from the two practice games it played. Harendra was satisfied with the results – India won 5-0 against Argentina and 2-1 against Spain – but has made it clear that any hint of complacency would not be tolerated. “This is the World Cup. Unforced errors can and will be fatal. The boys know that, now they have to make sure of it on field also,” he declared.