India will have to strengthen its defence and hope that drag-flicker Sandeep Singh continues with his red-hot form when they clash with Malaysia in a tough semi-final of the Asian Games men’s hockey competition, here on Tuesday.
Sandeep has been in superb touch and has scored eight goals in four matches but India has struggled against tough rivals though it topped the pool with an all-win record.
After warming up with a 7-0 victory over Hong Kong, India tore apart Bangladesh 9-0. But then it struggled to get the better of their arch-foes Pakistan and Japan, not a powerhouse even in the continent, in successive matches by identical 3-2 margins.
The defensive errors which have dogged the team for long, again surfaced against Pakistan. Custodian Bharat Chetri and full back Sardar Singh, a converted centre half, have been doing a good job but would need better support in the back from the others like Sandeep, Dhananjay Mahadik and Danish Mujtaba.
Coach Jose Brasa must have warned his wards not to repeat the mistakes, the defense committed in their last two matches, against Malaysia as he was not pleased with India's match against Japan on Sunday.
The forward line has also looked very good at times but not so co-ordinated and would need to be at its best against Malaysia, who have an excellent goal-keeper in Kumar Subramaniam.
The Malaysian defence, led by captain Madzli Ikmar Mohd. Nor, would be a tough nut to crack if Rajpal, Shivendra, Arjun Halappa and Tushar Khandekar do not get good support from the Indian midfield. The Malaysians have played well against India recently.
They had lost a thriller to eight-time Olympic champions India 2-3 at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi but had beaten them 5-2 in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament at home.