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Commonealth Games 2018: What Sjoerd Marijne's India need to do to qualify for the semi-finals

FEATURED COLUMNIST
Feature
09 Apr 2018, 13:32 IST

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India have to get their drag-flicks right in the remaining matches

With two high-voltage encounters behind them, the results of which were decided in the dying minutes, the Indian team have a much-needed break today to regroup and strategize. The Indians have their task cut out when they take on Malaysia tomorrow in the first match of the day at 05:00 IST (0930 local time).

Unexpected results have meant that Pool B looks muddled and has some intriguing possibilities ahead unlike Pool A where Australia and New Zealand have justified their rankings.

Three teams - India, England and Malaysia - have enough points on the table to harbor hopes of reaching the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games 2018.

Oltmans' men have an outside chance

Pakistan have dented the aspirations of India and England by splitting points with both their higher-ranked opponents, and they too have an outside chance of a podium finish. Yes, Roelant Oltmans' team can still go further with some assistance from Wales and India.

If India win both their remaining matches (against Malaysia and England), and Wales manage to upset England with a win or a draw, Pakistan will qualify for the semi-finals if they beat Malaysia in their last encounter.

So, how likely are silver-medalists India to make it to the knock-out stage?

The permutations and combinations for India

If both England and India win their respective matches tomorrow, it would effectively see both teams moving to the semi-final, irrespective of what happens thereafter. England will have it easier as they play Wales, and would be confident of overcoming their lower-ranked neighbours while India will face Malaysia who are perfectly capable of causing an upset.

A draw or a loss would complicate matters for India as they would then need nothing short of a win against England in their last encounter. Manpreet Singh and his team will look to win both matches, however, to top the pool as it would do their confidence a world of good.

Barring any big surprises, Australia and New Zealand should easily qualify from Pool A with Wednesday's clash between the Trans-Tasman neighbors determining which team tops the pool.

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If history, recent or remote, is any indication, India would like to avoid Australia in the semi-final. Yet, New Zealand have looked no less formidable in the tournament so far, beating Canada 6-2 and South Africa 6-0.

India will have to be at their absolute best should they get to the semi-final and will have to put on a vastly superior show to what they displayed against Wales.

India's familiar drag-flick woes continue

The potential is obvious, the reputations too are formidable, but when it comes to actual conversions on the field, India simply haven't been able to get it right consistently enough. Gareth Furlong did a Chris Ciriello for Wales with a brilliant PC hattrick that saw Sreejesh rooted to the spot.

India's PC battery, on the other hand, could not even manage to execute some flicks, such was the speed and tenacity with which the Welsh runners charged them. Hopefully, the Indian coaching staff have enough tricks up their sleeve to effect some new variations in the vital matches to come.

Lack of cohesion and anticipation

As India tried to string together some purposeful attacks, the Welsh strategy was clear. They crowded their circle with pretty much every available player, denying the slightest space to the Indian forwards who thrive on skilfully weaving their way past the best defences in the world.

Time and again, however, the Welsh made crucial errors, gifting the ball to the Indians just outside their own circle. The Indian forwards were unable to capitalise as they seemed totally uncertain of where to direct passes effectively and the resultant passes found the Welsh players or the sidelines.

India simply did not look clinical in their passing even with moves that were thoughtfully put together, and invariably failed to find the intended strikers near the Welsh goal.

Wales strike back at will

Dilpreet Singh put India ahead in the 16th minute. Wales, who were busy defending until then, came away like a flash into the Indian circle, earned a PC and before the celebrations of the Indian fans had even begun, equalised in the 17th minute!

In the dying minutes, Harmanpreet Singh got his act together with a great flick to put India ahead 3-2. With four minutes to go, Indian fans heaved a sigh of relief and were about to exult triumphantly when, yet again, the Welsh players scampered ahead and before the Indian midfield could even react, earned a PC. Gareth Furlong struck again, and in less than a minute, the Indian coaches and the fans slunk back in despair.

It took a desperate effort from India's most experienced stalwart, SV Sunil, to spare India the blushes and more importantly keep them in contention for the semi-finals.

The Indians will need to take a hard look as to how Wales were allowed to equalize twice in the space of less than a minute when for the most part, they were held back in their own circle.

India, one hopes, will get better with every match. Time is running out, however, and as Sjoerd Marijne's boys take the field against Malaysia, they would do well to go all-out and clinch their semi-final spot early tomorrow morning rather than put themselves and their fans on tenterhooks by needing to play a must-win encounter against England on Wednesday.

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