Bhubaneswar: Their morale low after two consecutive losses, Indian men's hockey team will have to plug the holes and produce a miracle performance to tame World Cup silver medallist the Netherlands in their third and final Pool B match of Hero Champions Trophy, here on Tuesday.
The Indians had a horrible start to the elite eight-nation tournament as after losing 0-1 to Olympics champions Germany in their first pool game, the Sardar Singh-led side squandered their hard-earned lead on two occasions to slump to a 2-4 defeat against Argentina at the Kalinga Stadium last night.
The defeat means India are languishing at the bottom of Pool B and are most likely to face the Pool A winners, most likely England in the quarterfinals as according to the tournament rules all eight teams will progress to the knock-out stages.
Winning and losing is part of any game but what has been most depressing in India's case is the manner of their defeat.
In the first match, it took a stellar effort from vice-captain and goalkeeper P R Sreejesh to keep India in the match before the backline finally crumbled under the opposition's persistent raids as Florian Fuchs scored a late winner for the Germans.
Against Germany, if not for Sreejesh the margin of defeat for India could have been higher as the goalkeeper from Kerala made uncountable saves to keep the hosts in the match.
And against Argentina yesterday, India's perennial problem, their fragile backline came to hurt them again as their lead didn't even last a minute on both the occasions.
While India's forwardline created chances against Argentina, the defence was nowhere to be seen and was caught napping by the Argentine's fast counter-attacks.
The solid structure which former coach Terry Walsh had developed in the last one year was conspicuous by absence. It seemed the Indian players have forgotten what Walsh had taught them in the last one year, which had reaped rich dividends for them in the tournaments Down Under.
In both the games, the Indian players looked out of sorts in front of the opposition D. They managed to take the ball near the circle on many occasions but instead of trying to get in, they depended more on hits from outside hoping for somebody to get a deflection.
India have three specialist dragflickers - V R Ragunath, Rupinder Pal Singh and Gurjinder Singh ?- in the team but they are failing to earn too many penalty corners because of their habit of playing long balls instead of trying to work it inside the opposition circle.
And it is high time High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans, who is in charge of the team following Walsh's exit, address these issues quickly otherwise it definitely is heading towards a disappointing end to what has been a profitable year for Indian hockey.
After the loss to Argentina, Oltmans too admitted that the structure was missing in India's game.
"We know Argentina plays on counter attack. They sit deep in the defence and go on fast counters. We should have controlled that. There was no structure in our game. We lost control," the legendary Dutchman had said.
Not just the defence, India's midfield too failed to perform to the best of their abilities in the last two matches.
Akashdeep Singh and young Lalit Upadhay looked promising upfront but Ramandeep Singh completely looked a pale shadow of himself.
The Netherlands, on the other hand, are brimming with confidence with two wins from as many games and will be eager to end their pool engagements on a clean note.
The Dutch defeated Argentina 3-0 in their tournament opener before outclassing Germany 4-1.
Netherlands coach Max Caldas also made it clear that they want to keep the winning momentum intact going into the knock-out rounds.
"We will be going all out to win against India tomorrow. We want to finish on top of our pool. There is no room for relaxing," Caldas said.
Meanwhile in other matches, Argentina will face Germany in Pool B tomorrow while in Pool A England will play Belgium and Australia will take on Pakistan.