Patchy India need improved performance against Netherlands
Held to a draw by lower-ranked Ireland, the Indian men's hockey team will have to come up with something special against formidable Netherlands.
Rotterdam: Held to a draw by lower-ranked Ireland in their FIH World League Round 3 opener, the Indian men's hockey team will have to regroup quickly and come up with something special against formidable Netherlands in their next Pool B match here on Saturday.
Ranked four places ahead of their rivals, India (11) started as overwhelming favourites against Ireland (15) on Thursday, but it didn't really show in their game as they laboured to a 4-4 draw.
Defence has been India's perennial problem and it hurt them against the Irish on Thursday. There was clear lack of co-ordination between Indian mid-fielders and the forwardline and they were also guilty of giving away the ball easily to their opponents.
But come on Saturday, the Indians cannot afford to commit the same mistakes against the Netherlands, who are ranked third in the world and are the current Olympic silver-medallists.
Going by the rankings and present status of both the teams, India, undoubtedly, will start underdogs in Saturday's encounter.
After missing out on a point against Ireland, the Indians can hardly afford to relax as a loss against the Dutch can jeopardise their chance of sealing one of the three berths up for grabs in next year's World Cup.
Banking on home support, Netherlands too be would desperate for a win against India on Saturday after they played out a 3-3 draw against New Zealand on Thursday.
Lanky drag-flicker Rupinderpal Singh was at his lethal best on Thursday as he converted two penalty corners to salvage a draw for the Indians. He would be hoping to carry on his rich form in the coming matches of the tournament.
But vice-captain V R Raghunath turned out to be a dud against Ireland and committed soft errors in the backline which hurt India badly. As usual, skipper Sardar Singh was the go-to man in the mid-field but he lacked support from other players.
Akashdeep Singh and the experienced Shivendra Singh were opportunistic upfront and managed to score a goal each but young Mandeep Singh, who featured briefly against Ireland, was a disappointment. SV Sunil, as usual, was threatening with his long runs from the flanks but he will have to make use of these efforts more often instead of fizzling out after entering the circle.
Apart from performance, India's chief coach Michael Nobbs also has an injury concern ahead of Saturday's game. Goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, who played well in patches against Ireland, is uncertain for Saturday's encounter after he was carried off the field following a collision with Ireland striker Andrew McConnell in the last six minutes of the match.
If Sreejesh, who suffered a head injury, is rendered unfit, P T Rao will take his place under the Indian goal. All in all, India need a positive result against Netherlands on Saturday as they take on another tough opponent in New Zealand in their last pool match while the hosts will be up against Ireland.