What next? Is India still in the race? Such posers are pure rhetoric. They are invoked to keep the interest alive in the current Hero Honda hockey World Cup.

The 2-5 reverse against Spain on Thursday mirrored the chasm dividing Asia and Europe in approach, athleticism and adeptness.

England produced a classic display in a tough contest against Pakistan. The former European champion, Spain, peaked at the right time to expose India's inadequacies. These frailties unfortunately are unable to make up for the inherent skill and touch.

Arguments over theoretical possibilities of a semifinal berth are academic. At best they satisfy a dream. If that were to happen then India needs to win the next two matches against England and South Africa by big margins. You have to be a morbid optimist to engage in such a line of thinking.

Practical assessment

Jose Brasa is practical in his post-match assessment. The best now is to strive and be in the race for the fifth spot. That would be a great achievement considering the 11th position in the last edition.

Brasa spoke about the compulsions to play Deepak Thakur. That India had to play a centre forward who hardly touched the ball is pathetic. Danish Mujtaba could have been given a trial as Brasa did for Sreejesh.

India's failure was self-inflicted. There was a cornucopia of chances. Equally, there were times when a little more care could have been exercised in marking the rival attackers, especially on known strikers like Pol Amat and Pau Quemada.

Penalty corners

Then, lack of variation in penalty corners. Of the seven, India succeeded in one. Thundering hits at the goal-keeper always do not produce the desired result. A certain amount of guile needs to be blended to surprise the custodian.

What put India down was the inability to comprehend the strength and weaknesses of the opponent. After all, no team is perfect. They have to be identified and conquered with ingenuous means. Brasa talks of inexperience. But more than half the side is having 100 international caps.

Crying over spilt milk or reiterating known deficiencies for decades is no remedy. The team needs to tighten up areas where it is strong, improve qualitatively the work in the defence zones.

England is at its peak. The defeat of the Aussies and the classic goals against Pakistan showed England can be tipped for the title. As the European champion, it is entitled to think in terms of a dawn as World champion.

Better record

India's record against England is marginally better. Of the 23 played, the home team has 10 victories, seven defeats and six draws. In the World Cup, it is three wins, two defeats and one draw. Such figures reflect nothing in the present scenario.

England is not at its full strength. Two of the best, Matt Daly and Simon Mantell, could not come because of injuries.

Loss of key player

The loss of the key player, Richard Mantell, after the tempestuous tie against Pakistan on Thursday leaves a dent. How much can India exploit with Shivendra back is the question.

A draw would be a splendid result.

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