Indian hockey ready for Belgium challenge

The Indian captain, P. R. Sreejesh, said that not much should be read into the team’s last league match and that the team would play its best in the knock-out phase.

There is a certain positive streak in the Indian team and the innate ability to play better depending on the quality of the opposition.   -  Getty Images

Indian hockey may have struck a jarring note in its 2-2 draw against Canada in the last league match, but that has not dented the confidence of the team that will challenge the topper from the other group, Belgium, in the quarterfinals on Sunday.

Indian hockey may have a rich past, having won eight gold medals as compared to a solitary bronze by Belgium in 1920, but it is Belgium that has been on a winning streak. The highly experienced Belgium has won four of its five league matches, and had played the 2015 World Hockey League final against Australia.

However, the Indian captain P. R. Sreejesh, a pillar of strength in the goal, often referred to by the commentators as the "wall", said that the team had both the confidence and consistency to make a match of it. Lest we forget, the Indian team did make it to the Champions Trophy final in London recently.

The captain said that not much should be read into the team’s last league match and that the team would play its best in the knock-out phase.

"The team is 100 per cent ready, both physically and mentally for the Belgian attack," said Sreejesh.

He added that the key to the contest would depend on how well the Indian side coped with the pressure of playing at this level against a top team on such a big stage.

Having finished last in London and not having qualified for the Beijing Olympics — the only time in history — the Indian team has everything to gain, and nothing to lose. There is a certain positive streak in the team and the innate ability to play better depending on the quality of the opposition. The team showcased such a feature during the matches against Germany and the Netherlands in the league, even though it lost both 1-2.

In the first quarterfinals on Sunday, Spain will play Argentina, which finished third ahead of India in the group. In the two other quarterfinals scheduled for Monday, the Netherlands will face Australia, while Germany will be challenged by New Zealand.

"We have the motivation and self-belief to win. We have been consistent," remarked the Indian captain.

With the scan not showing any damage to the injured wrist of S. V. Sunil, after the player had writhed in pain on running into the back fence in the match against Canada, the Indian team should be at full strength for its most important match in four years.