India face Australia with eye on Champions Trophy final (Preview)
London, June 15 (IANS) Buoyed by their creditable performances in the earlier matches, a confident India will take on heavyweights Australia in their last league game of the Champions Trophy hockey tournament here on Thursday.
A win will help India reach the final, where Australia have already booked their berth.
Around two months ago in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, India were beaten twice by Australia. Both defeats were by four-goal margins.
In the league fixture at Ipoh, Australia thrashed India 5-1 and then in the final they emerged victorious with a 4-0 scoreline. India then had no answer to the pace and tactics of the team from Down Under.
But their recent performances, which saw them defeat Britain and South Korea apart from holding mighty Germany to a draw, will egg the Indians on to fight till the last inch.
They might also draw inspiration from a Sultan Azlan Shah Cup game in 2015 where striker Nikkin Thimmaiah's hat-trick helped them notch a victory but that was against a second string Australian side.
Australia have fielded a more or less first choice side here but their penalty corner shooter Chris Ciriello's might just miss Thursday's tie with an injury.
The Kookaburras, as the Australian hockey team are lovingly called, are at the top of the leaderboard with 10 points from four games followed by India who are on seven points from four ties.
A victory would ensure India a place in the final but even a stalemate can help them too in making it to the decider.
The other two teams in the race for the final are Britain and Belgium. Britain are on five points whereas Belgium are on four.
A win for Britain over Belgium can send them through, if India lose to Australia. Belgium can make it too, if they defeat Britain by a big margin or India concede too many.
However, a stalemate between Britain and Belgium would clear India's passage to the final.
India might still reach the final if they lose but then they have to eagerly wait for the result of the Belgium versus Britain game.
The men in blue need to defend for their lives if they are to keep the Australian attackers at bay. They will also have to improve their finishing which was lacking in their 2-1 win over South Korea on Tuesday.
India's only previous medal in the history of the Champions Trophy was a bronze which they pocketed back in 1982 at Amsterdam and they would not want to easily give up on a chance to bag another.