Hockey: What India need to stay alive in Azlan Shah
India, currently fourth on the table, are yet to play two crucial games against New Zealand and hosts Malaysia respectively.
New Delhi: India outsmarted Pakistan on Tuesday, but they need to repeat that on Thursday and do it again on Saturday to finish on the podium at the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh.
A young Indian team lifted itself from back-to-back defeats against Australia and Korea to beat Pakistan 3-1 in a must-win match. But to stay in contention for the 1st-to-3rd-place playoffs, India have to win their next two battles against New Zealand and Malaysia.
The round-robin format of the tournament means that only the top four teams stand a chance to win a medal, with the top two playing the 1st-2nd place playoff and the next two for the 3rd place.
As of Tuesday, all six teams have played three matches each. Unbeaten Australia sit smartly atop the leaderboard with seven points. Malaysia, who are proving to be the giant killers of the tournament, too have seven points, but are behind Australia on goal difference (GD); Australia are +7 and Malaysia +2. New Zealand, India, Korea and Pakistan all have three points, but they too are separated by GD; New Zealand with +1 are third, followed by India (0), Korea (-3) and Pakistan (-7).
That leaves the tournament nicely poised with anything possible before the playoffs line-up for Sunday is decided.
WHAT INDIA NEED
New Zealand vs India: The easiest passage for India, as for every team, will be to win their last two games. But a victory against New Zealand on Thursday is an absolute must considering both the teams are level on three points and separated by just a solitary goal on GD. While a draw may keep India in the hunt, a loss will virtually end their campaign.
Malaysia vs India: India's match against Malaysia is the last pool engagement in Ipoh. That puts both the teams at slight advantage as they will know exactly what's needed to stay in contention for the 1st-to-3rd place playoffs. Malaysia currently have four points more than India and are far better placed than the five-time winners.
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 to Korea and Pakistan, respectively, on Thursday.
Australia and Malaysia sit on the top with 10 points each, and another win will take both to 10 points - rendering Saturday's last pool encounters as dead rubbers.