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Hockey World League Finals: India will have its task cut out

Roller-coasters are not for the faint-hearted. But the Indian team at the Hockey World League Finals here seems intent on dragging fans on such rides every time it steps on the field.

It surprised everyone with a structured attacking game to hold defending and World champion Australia in the opening game, then went blank to drop to alarming levels in the next two games, raising questions on whether the players even knew what they were supposed to do.

Then it flipped again, this time stunning a seemingly unbeatable Belgium in the quarterfinal in a shoot-out.

Coach Sjoerd Marijne's player-driven process seems to finally be up and running. “After the match, (captain) Manpreet Singh sat with the team and said you can feel happy with the win but there is a match coming up.

“I am happy that I don’t have to say that, that a player sets an example on how to approach the next match,” he declared on the eve of the semifinals against Argentina, which edged past England 3-2 in its quarterfinal match on Thursday.

The Indian team did have a different plan against Belgium but Argentina would be a different test. The Pan-American and Olympic champion World No. 1 side is far removed from the middling outfit it used to be..

Gonzalo Peillat's drag-flicks haven't fired as much as he would have wished and that makes him doubly dangerous.

Ask the Germans, who bore the brunt of his coming to form at just the right moment in the Rio Olympics semifinals.

What has been added is a penchant to attack more and take risks upfront, and it has paid off. Agustin Mazzilli, Matias Paredes, Lucas Vila, Ignacio Ortiz and Matias Rey bring the full force of their experience to crash through opposition defences.

India would do well to be careful not to concede penalty corners — England managed that on Thursday even though it lost.

An extra rest day compared to their opponents might also help the Indians regroup.

The statistics are not too helpful. India has the upper hand overall, struggled in the past 10 face-offs but won the last time the teams met, in the league stage of the Rio Olympics.

Manpreet needs to pick himself up. Undoubtedly one of the most skilful players in the world today, the India captain has been just average.

The forwards, good as they have been, need to get that last touch in and release the ball early.

“They know what success is. The consistency is getting better. They put up a standard, that's a good thing. But most important is they know how they did it. So we can do it tomorrow also,” Marijne added.

On Friday, the hoarse crowds would be hoping for a more sedate affair when the host takes on Argentina in the semifinal of the competition hoping to go one step ahead of its third-place finish two years back.

Friday's schedule: 5-8 place: England vs the Netherlands (5.15 p.m.); Semifinals: India vs Argentina (7.30 p.m.).

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 5:03:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/hockey/hockey-world-league-finals-india-will-have-its-task-cut-out/article21291747.ece

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