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BHUBANESWAR: Rejuvenated after a thrilling win, India will be eyeing to enter a maiden final when they face Argentina in the Hockey World League Final at the Kalinga Stadium here on Friday.
It has been a strange tournament for India. They have played four matches and still you cannot figure out whether they are good enough to win the tournament. And this is after a night when they edged ahead of tournament favourites Belgium in a thrilling shootout. Three matches after the league stage, they would’ve been the last team one would pick to make the semis based on current form. Yet they have managed to put themselves in medal contention. In the previous edition of the tournament, they entered the semi-final after an identical result in the pool stage – a draw and two defeats. They then ended up beating Netherlands in a shootout to claim bronze. However, when they play Argentina, the aim will be to go one better this time around. More so, as this happens to be the third and final edition of the tournament before it will be replaced by a Pro League.
Argentina set up semi-final date with India
The have dazzled and disappointed in a week’s time. Against Australia and Belgium, they played their best hockey – passes finding the intended targets, forwards making darting runs inside the D, defenders showing extra commitment, successful penalty corners (PC) conversions. Against England and Germany, they progressed from bad to poor. They missed their chances to score, failed at penalty corners, defenders made silly errors and even captain Manpreet Singh was off colour.
Sjoerd Marijne has been just three months in charge of the men’s hockey team and must have already experienced a gamut of emotions. His job from Day 1 has been to make this team consistent. It’s a word that the Dutch often uses.
Team that defends better will win, says Lucas Vila
Wednesday’s game against Olympic silver medallist Belgium brought a lot of positives for the hosts. Rupinder Pal Singh’s confidence would certainly have been boosted after he finally broke his penalty corner duck when he put India in the lead against Belgium on Wednesday. Forwards SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh and Mandeep Singh combined well to create chances which they sorely missed in the previous game against Germany, a team against which their strategy to overly rely on counters failed. Their focus on defending better and relying on creativity paid in full when Belgium, the only team to win all their three pool matches, went down by two goals in the first half. Still, they have committed glaring errors and polishing them would do them a world of good.
Goalkeepers Suraj Karkera started ahead of Akash Chitke and made several blocks before the latter took the centre-stage in the shootout. India conceded the lead in the next half and briefly, went ahead again before Amaury Keusters drew parity. The team put up a vastly improved show. On their road to a maiden Olympic gold, the only team that Argentina lost to at Rio was India. When it comes to head-to-head records, India have won 26 and Argentina 16 with four ending in a draw. The Olympic champions have had an average tournament so far. They have been found wanting is several areas and failed to record a win in the league stage before scraping past England in the quarters.
Friday gives India a chance to improve on the bronze they won in Raipur. It all depends on which Indian team turns up against Argentina.