FIH Hockey World League Final 2017: India have a golden chance of creating history
The dismal league performance was put to dust when India edged Belgium out 3-2 on a brilliant penalty shootout to enter the semi-finals of the FIH Hockey World League Final 2017 in Bhubaneswar, giving both the spectators and the new coach Sjoerd Marijne a moment to celebrate. India will now take on the current Olympic champions Argentina.
Though they are facing the top-ranked team at the moment, India now have a tangible chance of creating sheer history by becoming the first Asian team ever to enter the final of the FIH Hockey World League Final. Going by the current form that India are exhibiting, a win against Argentina is surely possible and within their reach.
Let us have a look at the statistics. On a head-to-head, India have been traditionally dominant over the Argentine team, straight from the Summer Olympics of London, held in 1948. Barring the brief lull from 2006 to 2012, it is mostly the Indian team who has had an upper hand over Argentina.
Even in the last major tournament they have competed in, which was the Rio Olympics, India had the upper hand, pummelling Argentina by 2-1. In fact, India were the only team Argentina had to concede defeat to, throughout their gold medal journey at the Rio Olympics.
Besides, even though India and Argentina were on the same pedestal in the league stage, India were in a much better shape than Argentina in the quarter-finals. They displayed some raw pace, which was an essential factor that helped India win the Junior Hockey World Cup last year.
Incidentally, a major chunk of the Indian team is filled with the same boys who made that historic triumph possible. Also, India have an advantage over Argentina in one area -- the tie-breaking penalty shootout.
So, if India pull out all stops against Argentina, they have a golden chance to create history in the same way they did at the FIH Champions Trophy last year, where they stormed into the final and forced the ultimate champions Australia to fight it out for the gold medal in the penalty shootout.
India need to shed the 'chokers' tag
However, the road is not too rosy. India have been branded as the 'chokers' in the crucial stages of any major tournament. Of all things, India need to keep their penalty corner conversion rate of the quarter-finals intact, if they wish to take the mantle forward. Besides, players like Harmanpreet Singh, who had missed his first stroke in the shootout, need to keep their wits intact, or the game may fall in favour of Argentina.
Defenders need to step up
Apart from that, India need to tighten their defence a bit more. Though the goalkeeper Akash Chikte looks like a diligent disciple of his mentor and star goalkeeper, PR Sreejesh, he gets little to no support from the defenders, who give in on ridiculously easy deflections, some of which cost them the matches against England and Germany. Also, the forward line should be in attacking mode, exactly the way they did in their inaugural match against Australia, otherwise the road to the FIH Hockey World League Final podium wouldn't be that easy.
All in all, India have a golden chance of announcing their return as the rightful emperors of field hockey in style, provided they keep their wits intact against Argentina in the semi-finals.