NEW DELHI: India will look to concentrate on their own brand of attacking hockey rather than try to nullify Belgium’s main strengths. This was Harendra Singh’s main message during the pre-match press conference on Saturday. “The Indian team has set a benchmark of attacking hockey in the last 4-5 months and we won’t compromise on that,” he said. “We will not allow opponents to dominate. We will keep playing at high speed. Whoever can sustain that will win (on Sunday).”
That’s big talk but the one main flaw with such a philosophy is that’s exactly how the World No 3 prefer their opponents to play against them. The Olympic silver-medallists are world-class at soaking up pressure, maintaining structure before catching teams cold on the break.
Arthur van Doren accepted as much when he was asked to rate their chances against India a couple of days ago. “Their attacking play is very good so we will just look to be compact at the back and take it from there.”
The World No 5’s recent history against the Europeans also suggests that such a high-risk strategy may not necessarily yield high returns. The hosts have won only once — a 5-4 victory in a 4-Nations Invitational in New Zealand in January — in their last eight fixtures. Singh, who was mindful of that poor record, doesn’t want to dwell on the past. “Past results don’t mean anything,” he said. “If we keep reminding ourselves of negative things, it’s not good. What bad has happened is history. Our problem is we talk about past a lot and not think about the present. We have taken this team out of that thought process.”
To be fair to the former international, India’s pace did trouble Sunday’s opponents when they faced each other in the same venue at the World League Final in 2017.
The then coach Sjoerd Marijne had instructed his men to go attack at pace down both the flanks, a strategy which saw his charges take a 2-0 lead before Belgium fought back to level the match (3-3).
Belgium coach Shane McLeod, who was in the dugout that day, said India did have the pace to trouble but opined that his side’s experience (eight players with over 200 caps) could be the key in deciding the contest. “I think we do (feel that experience is going to be a factor),” he said. “India have the exuberance of youth. They have players who want to impress and play exciting hockey. And, hopefully, the experience of our players will help stop that. We’re mindful of the pace with which the game could be played.”
Win this and India will have one foot and four toes in the quarterfinal.
Lose and they can mentally start preparing for a nerve-shredding encounter crossover against either one of Pakistan or Malaysia to reach the last eight.