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Hockey World League Semi-Final: India face Malaysian hurdle in quarters

India finished as the No. 2 side in their pool after Tuesday’s Hockey World League semi-final defeat against The Netherlands. Malaysia finished third in their pool.

other sports Updated: Jun 21, 2017 23:36 IST
Soumitra Bose
The Indian Men’s Hockey Team will take on Malaysia in the quarters of Hockey World League Semi-Finals on Thursday.
The Indian Men’s Hockey Team will take on Malaysia in the quarters of Hockey World League Semi-Finals on Thursday. (Hockey India)

India are on a decent run in the Hockey World League Semi-Final but will be wary of a dogged Malaysian side in a quarterfinal match at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre on Thursday. Malaysia can be a tricky side and in recent times, have been a thorn in India’s flesh. With every team gunning for a top-four finish in this tournament to make it to the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar in December this year, India can ill afford to lower their guard against Malaysia.

(Read |Hockey World League semifinal: India lose vs Netherlands but enter last 8)

The quarterfinal line-up was decided on Tuesday night. Argentina finished atop Pool A while England, by virtue of a big win versus Korea, were No 2. Malaysia finished third while China grabbed the fourth slot ahead of former Asian champions Korea, who were eliminated after their fourth straight defeat.

(Read | FIH Hockey World League: India punished for wasted chances, says Roelant Oltmans)

The format of the tournament has allowed all 10 teams to play extra international matches. India have used this opportunity to test combinations and captain Manpreet Singh said “tough matches like the Netherlands” are good exposure for younger players who have come into the team.

India coach Roelant Oltmans said the “real” tournament starts with the quarterfinals and most top teams will change their tactics at this stage.

(Read |Hockey: Sardar Singh questioned by UK police, Narinder Batra vents his ire)

India too will look to change their gameplan and one area that will garner interest will be India’s penalty corner conversion strategy. On Tuesday, against the Netherlands, India adopted the simple trap-and-hit policy that hardly troubled the Dutch.

Harmanpreet Singh seems to be India’s penalty-corner man in the absence of veteran stars Rupinderpal Singh and VR Raghunath. He was quite predictable with his approach and if Oltmans is to be believed, India have a few tricks up their sleeves.

(Read | Why Indian hockey team wore black arm bands vs Pakistan during World League)

India have been among the goals in the Hockey World League Semi-Final. They have scored 15 goals and conceded five, three of them in the last group B game against the Dutch. Akash Chikte’s superb goalkeeping saved India from a bigger defeat against the Netherlands.

Akashdeep Singh, the tournament’s third best so far with five strikes, scored a fine field goal against the Dutchmen. He controlled a long ball from Sardar Singh well to find the net with a deft touch past a sliding goalkeeper.

(Read |India rout Pakistan 7-1, maintain unbeaten run in Hockey World League Semi-Final)

Akashdeep will have to do that more often as Oltmans envisages that the tournament will get tougher from the quarterfinal stage and if “we can’t take our opportunities, India will get punished.”

In SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh, India have lot of experience upfront and with Sardar and Manpreet controlling the midfield, India are not short on experience in such big games. Malaysia have scored 11 goals and conceded 13 and India would love to exploit that vulnerability in defence.

“It’s all about not missing goals. We were quite sharp against the Dutch but we have be better in the knockout games. We have overcome the mistakes,” said Manpreet.

In the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year, India were upset by Malaysia but in modern hockey, history is only for the record books. India have a new team and a fresh approach. Only the team has to execute what’s being discussed at team meetings, said Oltmans.