Hockey: Only a win over New Zealand will keep India alive
India also need other results to pan out in their favour and will want table-toppers Australia and Malaysia to lose on Thursday.
New Delhi: If India play anywhere close to how they did against Pakistan to chalk out a 3-1 win, there is no reason why they can't turn the tables on New Zealand on Thursday to climb further up the points table and stay alive at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
The young Indian team put up a spirited show against the archrivals to register a win but will have to continue in that fashion to harbour any hopes of finishing on the podium, thanks to their twin defeats against Australia and Korea.
New Zealand are travelling in the same boat as India. They lost their first two matches to Pakistan and Malaysia before turning it on against Korea for a 3-0 victory to stay in contention for the medal playoffs.
Vice captain and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, who has been in the form of his life, will once again be the man to beat for New Zealand after the Indian custodian thwarted Pakistan's seven penalty corners on Tuesday.
India are currently fourth on the leaderboard, behind New Zealand who are third on virtue of a better goal difference (GD) than India. Both have three points but the Black Sticks have a GD of +1 as compared to India's 0.
That makes the victory against New Zealand on Thursday an absolute must for India as a loss will virtually end their campaign and a draw will be a serious blow to the podium aspirations of Danish Mujtaba's men. The same theory applies to Black Sticks as well, who too need to win their remaining two matches.
But there's a catch.
The draw between Australia and Malaysia has made it much more difficult for the other four to reach the 1st-2nd place playoff. As much as their own effort, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and Korea - all of who are tied on three points - will want Australia and Malaysia to lose on Thursday.
Australia and Malaysia sit on the top with seven points each, and another win will take both to 10 points - rendering Saturday's last pool encounters as dead rubbers. But India coach Michael Nobbs is not looking beyond the game against Black Sticks on Thursday while keeping hopes from his young team under realistic check.
"I am happy we won [against Pakistan] but we need to focus on a much better performance. As they [the youngsters] haven't played or had much training together, it is difficult for them to grasp the patterns and what style the senior team plays. It's understandable but we will have a lot of work to do in these areas," Nobbs explained.