India lack punch but reach crossovers
The hosts will face New Zealand on Sunday with the winner qualifying for the quarter-finals
Target: Victory by eight goals. Result: Won by two.
India were cagey, under pressure, error-prone and simply lacked punch but they still managed to get the job done and advance in the World Cup. Though they had set out to win by an eight-goal margin to directly qualify for the quarter-finals, they will now face New Zealand here on Sunday following a 4-2 victory against debutant Wales in their final Pool D contest.
England, who hammered Spain 4-0 in the other Pool D match at the Kalinga Stadium earlier on Thursday, made the last eight directly while India finished second and Spain third with Wales knocked out but not before giving the hosts a tough fight, also scoring two goals for the first time in a World Cup match.
Significantly for India, the midfield – in the absence of the injured Hardik Singh – stepped up to create enough opportunities for the forward line with experienced campaigner Akashdeep Singh (33rd, 46th) scoring a brace after Shamsher Singh’s opener in the 22nd minute. More importantly, the monkey is off the back for India captain and primary drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh, who finally scored for the first time in this World Cup when he slid in India’s fourth and final goal in the final minute.
Drag-flicker Gareth Furlong (43th) scored Wales’s first goal off a penalty corner (PC) after quietening the crowd. There was pin-drop silence in the final minute of the third quarter when Jacob Draper (45th) scored off a rebound during a PC to level the contest at 2-2.
“The way we had planned we didn’t play the first two quarters accordingly but we did well in the end. For now, we have to get ready for the pre-quarterfinal. We will analyse, after watching the videos, what all we need to do to progress further in the tournament. We will improve accordingly,” said Player of the Match Akashdeep.
“Our plan was to play our normal game, put the scoreboard pressure on them from the start which didn’t happen. We didn’t get a goal in the first quarter because of which we were playing attacking hockey. But we bettered our game in the third and fourth quarter.”
India had a mountain to climb if they wanted to earn the top spot in Pool D. It was the pressure of scoring that didn’t allow them to execute their plans.
Knowing they were playing their last competitive game of the tournament before moving to Rourkela for the 9-16 position classification playoffs, the Lewis Prosser-led Welsh squad came out in an attacking mood, making penetrations into the Indian striking circle at every opportunity they got.
As India searched for more goals, Wales got chances to launch their own counters which reached its zenith in the third quarter. The British outfit scored from two of the three PC attempts they got in the third quarter – also in the match – as Wales stunned the crowd by levelling the scores.
The Welsh team regularly crowded the hosts throughout the contest, especially in the striking circles. When they attacked, from the defenders to strikers, everyone barring the goalkeeper pressed towards the shooting circle. When they defended, all 11 were in their own circle, defending against India.
Their not-worrying-about-counterattack strategy fired back as all of India’s goals came on counterattacks.
“England did a pretty good job. Made it a lot more difficult. I told the team not to worry, just play well. We played well in patches. If you don't finish the game, that's what happens. They are a good team when you give them a chance," said India chief coach Graham Reid.
“We now have got a crossover game versus New Zealand. That's going to be tough. We have played them here and in the Pro League. They will come out like Wales did, energised.”
Significantly, Reid said that Hardik, who didn’t play due to a hamstring strain he suffered against England, is likely to be back in the crossover contest against New Zealand.
“At the end of the day, we have won. In such matches where we have to score a certain number of goals... there is pressure. We gave them chances to play easy balls. We wanted to create pressure on them but didn’t happen. Not satisfied as it was not our best game. We know we can do better,” said Harmanpreet.