New Delhi: Knocked out of semi-final contention in the Hockey World Cup, India need to motivate themselves to try and get a direct entry to the Champions Trophy when they take on a resurgent South Africa in their last Pool B match here Monday.
The top five finishers in the World Cup would make it to the Champions Trophy directly and India need to finish among the first four in the Pool to qualify for the classification matches for fifth to eighth positions.
However, the match against South Africa would be far from a cakewalk for the hosts, who have suffered a hat-trick of defeats in the tournament after the euphoric 4-1 win against arch-rivals Pakistanon the opening day.
In contrast, South Africa would be high on adrenaline after their shock 4-3 win over four times champions Pakistan to break a seven-game losing streak and a ten game winless record in the World Cup.
The African side’s feat was all the more commendable as it came only 48 hours after they suffered a humiliating 0-12 defeat to Australia, and the Indians would have to find a way to slow down their rivals, who completely outpaced Pakistan in the second session Saturday.
Both the teams have have three points so far, though India find themselves in the fourth spot by virtue of a better goal difference (minus four as opposed to South Africa’s minus 15). Pakistan (minus six) are fifth while South Africa are now the wooden spooners.
England are already in the semis with 12 points from four straight wins, while Australia also look a near certainty (9 points) with a huge goal difference while Spain (six points) only have an outside chance.
The Indian defence has looked jaded in the tournament, with Sandeep Singh failing to give a good account of himself either as a defender or in his role as drag flicker. The Indians have converted only four of the 15 penalty corners, while their forwards have been brilliant only in flashes and wasted chances like billionaires squandering money in a casino,
The midfield has been the only department where the Indians have been more or less consistent, and their Spanish coach Jose Brasa would be hoping for a fine display from this section as they need to log in full points to stay out of reach of Pakistan and retain at least the fourth slot, if not finish a rung higher by unseating Spain.
There is not much to choose between the two sides as far as the world rankings are concerned. While India are at 12th place, South Africa occupy the 13th slot.
Head to head, India have never lost a World Cup game to South Africa in three meetings. Two of the clashes ended in draws while the Indians won 1-0 in the play-off for the 11th position four years back at Monchengladbach.
Other than the victory over Pakistan, it has not been a very memorable campaign for South Africa in the tournament so far. They have conceded 25 goals, and converted only one of their 11 penalty corners.
While the South Africans would hope to continue the momentum they gained in the last match, India would look to return to their winning ways and brace up for the tough classification matches in the second week.