India hopeful yet realistic ahead of their FIH World Cup opener against Belgium
The Hague, May 30 (IANS): India will have to punch above its weight for a respectable show against the giants, like tournament favourites the Netherlands, Germany and Australia, in the 12-team FIH Hockey World Cup that starts here Saturday.
Four years ago at home India finished eighth, and it was been 39 years since eight-time Olympic champions India won their only hockey World Cup. After that they have never come anywhere near a podium finish, let alone winning.
This time the Indians are realistic. For coach Terry Walsh, a respectable finish among the top-eight would be a good show by World No. 8 India.
India start their campaign against the rapidly rising Belgium, world No. 9, at the Kyocera Stadium here Saturday. India's high performance manager Roelant Oltmans had picked Belgium as the dark horse, who can create a few upsets this time around.
India captain Sardar Singh is aware of the challenges his team faces from the Belgians, especially from drag-flicker Tom Boon.
"The team is all set for the opening match against Belgium and we are confident of making a winning start. We are putting our strategies in place for each player of Belgium with great focus on their drag flicker Tom Boon. We all are aware that he is one of the best drag flickers in the world today and hence the team is working on how best to tackle him," said Sardar.
The India captain feels that keeping Boon in check will be half the battle won.
"Keeping him under control will be like half the game won. Last we played Belgium in the Hero World League Finals 2014 and we lost the match to them 1-2 and this was solely because of the goal scored by Tom Boon in the last few minutes and till that point the game was locked at 1-1. So he cannot be taken lightly at any point in the game," he said.
Sardar said the team will take heart from its warm-up match against South Africa.
"I am happy that we as a team performed really well in our last warm-up match against South Africa here and won it with a decent margin. This win has helped boost our confidence level. I have advised my teammates not to take any pressure during matches and just play their natural game and stay positive on the field," he said.
Walsh said the win against South Africa will stand them in good stead.
"Lalit and Yuvraj have settled in well and are looking in great form. The two goals scored by Rupinder Pal Singh in the last warm-up game played against South Africa makes me believe that he is the player to be looked out for in our tomorrow's match. All the boys are a determined group oozing with confidence and positivity. While the team is confident of its opening match against Belgium tomorrow we cannot forget Belgium's target for World Cup and plus the fact that they have been playing very good hockey recently with positive results," he said.
India and Belgium have played thrice in the last two years with the most recent clash being during the European Tour. Although the last two clashes resulted in India losing to Belgium, both the matches can easily be termed as hard-fought wins for the opponents.
For India, the players to watch out for will be forward Mandeep Singh who was outstanding in the FIH World League Round Final in Delhi early this year. Other forwards, debutant Lalit Upadhayay and Yuvraj Walmiki who joined the team post the injuries of Ramandeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmiah respectively, are also ready for the challenge.
Experienced forward S.V.Sunil has 131 international caps, and has the potential to get his name regularly on the score sheet. Apart from them, comeback player Gurbaj Singh will be closely watched for his speed and grit on the field and Sardar Singh for how well he fares in taking his team to a victory in the opening match. It will also be a big opportunity for debutant Jasjit Singh to showcase his talent in his first international match against Belgium.
On the other side both Jeremy Gucassoff as well as Vincent Vanasch will be looking at not allowing a single goal when they are standing guard for the team at the goal post with John Dohmen looking at taking his team to victory alongwith Boon.