Lot at stake for India against England (Preview)

New Delhi, March 5 (IANS) After losing two successive matches by a staggering 2-5 margin, India should not only strive to seize the slim chance of making the semi-finals, but also finish respectably at the Hockey World Cup by putting it across Pool B toppers England here Saturday.

Facing England, India would be up against an opposition who have been at their best in the tournament. The European champions have a clean slate, winning all three matches against South Africa, Australia and four-time winners Pakistan and lead Pool B with nine points.

With three points, India are now fourth after England, Australia and Spain. Even if they win all their remaining matches, the hosts’ fate would hinge on the outcome of the other matches in Pool.

For India, it will be a revenge match as England denied them a Beijing Olympics berth. It was the fist time in 80 years that the eight-time Olympic medallists were not seen in action in the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza.

‘We lost to this team in the Olympic qualification in Santiago, Chile. After that, we have defeated them in the European tour and we know that we can put up a good performance against England,’ says Indian skipper Rajpal Singh.

England captain Barry Middleton said there will be no drop in his team’s intensity and it will be looking for full three points against India.

‘We are improving as a team with every match. India are a good developing side and we can’t take anything for granted,’ said.

England will miss their penalty corner specialist Richard Mantell who was ruled out of the World Cup after suffering a dislocated and broken ankle in an ill-tempered match against Pakistan Thursday.

India, however, will do better to take a long, hard look at themselves and iron out the deficiencies.

The comeback of Shivendra Singh, who missed the matches against Australia and Spain following his suspension, will no doubt boost the forward line which goofed up some chances against Spain.

India did manage to match Spain in speed and had a fair look at the goal on a number of occasions, but the last-minute touch somehow eluded them. It could have been anybody’s game had India made use of the opportunities. Perhaps they could have done better to slow down the pace of the game in the second half and focus on building effective moves.

The midfield again did the bulk of the job for India, but the defence was disappointing for the second successive match.

Sandeep Singh was lacklustre and his penalty corner hits too could not get past a resolute Spanish goalkeeper Francisco Cortes. Dhananjay Mahadik needs to be more alert near the goalmouth. In the last two matches his fumble with the ball proved costly for India.

A quality and experienced striker like Pol Amat was left on his own and he created havoc in the Indian defence. The Indian defenders will have to plug in such loopholes. They cannot allow the same degree of freedom to England midfielder Ashley Jackson who has been in good form in the tournament.

England have played like a well-oiled machine, managing to convert most of the chances that came their way.

Brasa is right when he says India matched up to Spain, but the experience of the Olympic silver medallists made the difference.

However, in a big arena like the World Cup what matters is execution and India can only do better from here.

They surprised with their new skills of European hockey against Pakistan, were outplayed by World No.2 Australia in the next match, before they looked error-prone opposite Spain.

‘Australia was too good for us. But against Spain we were equal. We made mistakes in the match. We gifted the second goal with just seconds to go for the half-time.’

‘But mistakes are normal and we are not going to punish the players. Except five or six, this is the biggest tournament for most of our players,’ said Brasa.

Whatever the outcome of the World Cup, it will be a learning curve for Brasa and his boys.

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