London 2012 Hockey: India take on New Zealand today
London: India take on New Zealand Wednesday in what would be a key game for both teams if they hope to remain on course in the men`s Olympic hockey competition.
Both teams lost their lung-openers Monday. India went down 2-3 to the Netherlands who struck the match-winner in the 51st minute, while the Kiwis were tripped by Korea`s two first-half goals.
On the evidence of their performances in their respective opening matches, India appeared the better equipped than the Kiwis who, though, have a psychological advantage of winning their previous encounter 5-1 en route to winning the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia earlier this year.
The Black Sticks have brought a virtually unchanged squad to the Olympics, but did not enjoy much play against the speedy Koreans who had beaten the Kiwis 1-0 in Malaysia and were forced to adopt a defensive posture that could work against them on the morrow, given the sharp Indian attack that on its day can trouble the best of teams.
The Indian frontline`s potential was well in evidence Monday, but forwards need to show greater finesse in the striking zone to win matches.
Historically, Indians have never been good starters, but if they hope to make it to the medal rounds then they cannot afford to drop too many points in the preliminary league.
The Kiwis have never looked capable of emulating their 1976 batch that won the gold medal at the Montreal Games and India would be justified to fancy their chances.
A win for India will definitely provide them a boost ahead of the two tough back-to-back games against Germany and Korea, this weekend.
Of concern for India team coach Michael Nobbs would be the side`s inability to sustain their level of play in the last quarter. Against the Dutch, a draw appeared distinct possibility until the Indian defence caved in under pressure to concede the match-winner.
Though Nobbs has been at pains to emphasise that the fitness levels of his players has been good enough, India did slacken against the Dutch during the twilight period of the game and especially after drawing level at 2-2.
India can expect the Kiwis to hit hard as they too need the points and this scenario should make for a tense battle of nerves. Under the circumstances, India would need to seize the upper hand early and sustain it.