HWL: India eye steady performance against Belgium in semi-final
Barring a few glitches, the Indians were near perfect against Great Britain yesterday.
Raipur: Inconsistency has been India's bane for a long time and the biggest task for Sardar Singh and Co. would be to come up with a steady performance when they take on a dangerous Belgium in the semifinal of the Hockey World League (HWL) Final, here tomorrow.
After a poor start to the tournament -- a 0-3 loss to Argentina -- India produced a fine show to hold Olympic champions Germany 1-1 before dishing out another mediocre performance to lose 1-3 against title-holders Netherlands.
But an unpredictable India then saved their best for the tough quarterfinal clash against world no.4 Great Britain and eked out a close 2-1 win to progress to the last four stage.
The up and down showing is worrying India's chief coach Roelant Oltmans and the Dutchman was candid enough to say that he can't guarantee a consistent performance from his wards in the next match.
"If you ask me whether we will be able to give a performance like this (against Great Britain) again, then frankly speaking I am not sure about it. But of course in the next two days we will work towards that," Oltmans said about India's inconsistent performance.
Barring a few glitches, the Indians were near perfect against Great Britain yesterday. The hosts sparkled in all departments of the game to produce their best performance of the tournament so far.
India's misfiring forwardline finally showed some promise with Talwinder Singh scoring a fine field goal and Ramandeep Singh hitting the post on one occasion against Great Britain yesterday. Young Mohammad Amir Khan too impressed with his performance.
But what has been inspiring for India in this tournament is the performance of its midfield led by talismanic skipper Sardar Singh.
The performance of the midfield, the link between forwardline and defence, is key to any team's success in international hockey and the likes of Sardar, Kothajit Singh and Manpreet Singh have stood upto the occasion, atleast here.
Defence has always been India's weak link and has wilted under pressure on numerous occasions. But against Great Britain yesterday, the backline managed to stand tall to thwart relentless pressure in the fourth and final quarter.
India coach Oltmans too understands the significance of tomorrow's match when he said it's time for the past masters of the game to shine in major international events.
"It's nice to be in the semifinal but it's time to win a medal in a major tournament and this is a major tournament and that's what we are aiming for," he had said.
Going by world ranking, there is hardly anything to separate sixth-placed India and Belgium who are a rung below the hosts.
The match will also provide India a chance to avenge their 0-4 thrashing in the bronze medal play-off match of the Hockey World League Semifinal earlier this year.
But it will be easier said than done as the Red Lions looked more consistent in the tournament than their opponents.
Although Belgium new coach Shane McLeod identified India's grey areas, he said the hosts would be a tough nut to crack.
"I thought they (India) played well. I think in the other games ? the grading games ? they were a bit inconsistent. But I thought they played well (against Great Britain) and they are going to be a really tough opponent," McLeod said.
The Belgium coach said coming into the tournament it was his wish to play India in their own backyard.
"A secret wish of mine was having the guys experience playing India in India. It's a fantastic opportunity for the guys and there will be big crowd in. We are looking forward to it," McLeod said.
"Look it's tough but you can't buy that experience. You can only get that by winning and by achieving what we have achieved so far. No matter how much money you spend you can't fill a stadium. To be fair, all of them are going to root for India. So it's going to be interesting to see how my players cope with it," he added.
Meanwhile in the other match of the day, Olympic champions Germany will play lowly Canada in the fifth to eighth place classification match.