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Hockey World League Semi-Final: After Malaysia shock, India wary of Pakistan

India, Pakistan, Canada and China will be playing for the fifth to eighth positions in the Hockey World League Semi-Final in London.

other sports Updated: Jun 23, 2017 18:46 IST
Soumitra Bose
India will look to end the Hockey World League Semi-Final round on a high after failing to reach the last-four.
India will look to end the Hockey World League Semi-Final round on a high after failing to reach the last-four.(PTI)

Did Roelant Oltmans put the cart before the horse? After Malaysia dented India’s plans to enter the last-four stage of the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final on Thursday, India run into an improving Pakistan for the second time in a week in London.

Dutchman Oltmans never envisaged that India would be playing Pakistan in a placing match at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre here. His eyes were firmly on a semi-final clash against Argentina, but the tables were turned on India.

READ | FIH boss Narinder Batra says sorry to Pakistan Hockey Federation

“We haven’t done enough here. I was not even thinking of playing Pakistan again,” a disappointed Oltmans said after the 3-2 Malaysian setback.

Classification battle

On Saturday, India clash with Pakistan and Canada play China as the teams contest for the fifth to eighth positions in the Hockey World League Semi-Final’s London leg.

Since India automatically qualify as the host nation for the 2018 Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar, Pakistan, Canada and China will be desperate to grab the fifth and sixth slots and remain in the hunt for the world championship.

READ | Cricketers new role models for hapless Pakistan hockey team

Argentina, Malaysia, Netherlands and England have already qualified for the 2018 World Cup by virtue of entering the semi-finals here.

On Saturday, Rio Olympics champions take on Malaysia while hosts England play a marauding Dutch team. In the quarterfinals on Thursday, Argentina beat Pakistan 3-1, Netherlands spanked China seven goals to nothing and England scripted a come-from-behind 4-2 win against Canada.

India vs Pakistan treat

This has been a season of India versus Pakistan in the UK. The cricket teams battled twice in the ICC Champions Trophy and it will be a repeat on the hockey pitch. Oltmans is only hoping that the Round 2 results will be different.

India had whipped Pakistan in a group match of the ICC Champions Trophy in Birmingham on June 4 and two weeks later at The Oval, surrendered meekly to gift Pakistan their maiden Champions Trophy.

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Oltmans seemed to be aware of what happened on the cricket field and with Pakistan showing signs of improvement in the Hockey World League Semi-Final, the Indians are not even thinking of their 7-1 win in a group match last Sunday.

“Certainly it won’t be 7-1. They got their chances against us in the first match and they scored against Argentina. So we have to respect Pakistan for their abilities,” said Ramandeep Singh, who scored India’s two goals against Malaysia

Desperate for World Cup

Pakistan are desperate to finish among the top six. They lifted their game against Rio Olympic champions Argentina on Thursday and their defence looked tightest in the tournament so far.

For a struggling Pakistan team that had conceded 18 goals and scored just four in the four group matches, to thwart the tactical Argentines in as many as seven penalty corners in a pressure game was a clear sign of improvement. Their goalkeeper Amjad Ali had an outstanding match.

Captain Abdul Haseem Khan was confident of a better show against India. “We are a young team and lack experience of big matches. But we are like soldiers in a battlefield. We will rise for sure,” he told HT.

READ | Rani Rampal to lead Indian women’s team in Hockey World League Semi-Final

India’s story of missed chances continued against a tactical Malaysia on Thursday. “We are still not finishing well. It was good to rebound after being down two-nil but we are still not executing our plans and luck is not with us too,” Oltmans said.

India’s inability to score directly from penalty corners has hurt the team. Harmanpreet Singh has drawn a blank in his last six short corners mostly due to the absence of crisp and precision finish.

“It’s a pity we are missing Rupinderpal Singh but it’s no point talking about a player who is not here. Harmanpreet is young and will learn,” said Oltmans.

India’s inability to finish well from inside the 25-yard zone has been a sore point in the Hockey World League semi-final. Sizzling crosses across the pitch, clever deflections and quick counterattacks seem to be factors that is dominating modern hockey. India still have some catching up to do.