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BHUBANESWAR: The format of the Hockey World League Final is such that a team can lose all its group matches and still go on to win the title.
So it is all about peaking at the right time – which is from the knockout stage. India have done just that beating world No. 3 Belgium in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals where they will take on Argentina on Friday.
Team that defends better will win tomorrow, says Lucas Vila on India game
It is not the first time though that India have done it. Even in the last edition of the tournament, held in Raipur two years back, India were winless in the group stage but won the quarterfinal against England to make the semis where they lost to Belgium. In the end, they had to settle for bronze. This year, after the two losses against Germany and England, Manpreet Singh & Co played their hearts out to beat the Olympic silver medalists. Yes, there were flaws, they did miss chances, failed to trap passes and even mispassed on several occasions but it thankfully, it did not get too late to make amends. The team, after all, is still in the process of adapting to the new style of play under new coach Sjoerd Marijne.
However, what was heartening to see was against Belgium was the urge to win. The way the Indians were diving across the turf to get the ball showed their desperation. Also, juniors like Varun Kumar and Sumit punched way above their weight. They kept calm and held firm against wave after wave of Belgian attacks. As for Akash Chikte, no amount of praise is enough for the young goalkeeper. With Sreejesh not in the team because of injury, there were concerns as how the two goalkeepers would perform. But Chikte has calmed the nerves of everyone with four saves during the shootout.
Indians were also brilliant with penalty corners. Rather than just hitting straight and hard, they tried out variations and were awarded on both occasions. In Marijne’s words, “India were well-structured, had good ball possession, scored off penalty corners, defended well in one-on-one situations, created chances and converted them.”
He not only sounded confident but also happy. “After the match, Manpreet sat down with the players and told them ‘We did good but we have to be better in the semis’ and that’s very good to see,” the coach added. It was, however, strange that Manpreet stayed away from the shootout.
The major concern for India ahead of the semifinal is SV Sunil’s inability to score. Being a senior player, it is expected that he would convert chances like the ones he got against Belgium. Not only did he not score, he seemed quite lost while making runs up the field.
All said and done, it would not be wise to assume that India will put on a similar show in the last-four stage. After all, consistency is one area where this team has not scored highly of late.
Odisha govt sends food samples for tests
Director of Sports, Odisha, R Vineel Krishna said on Thursday that food samples have been sent for tests after there were reports that some players from the England and the Netherlands team are suffering from stomach ailment.
“We don’t yet know if it is due to the food served at the hotel because the teams have also been ordering food from outside. But we have still sent the food samples for tests. The commissioner for food safety is also on the job and he’s been checking the kitchens twice a day,” said the sports director.
He further added that there has been no official complaint from FIH yet.