Indian hopes for FIH World Cup qualifiers - An analysis

All eyes of Indian fans will be glued to the proceedings at the beautiful stadium in Rotterdam for Robobank Hockey World League semi final 2013, from where 3 teams will qualify for the World Cup next year, to be played at the same arena. India is on a fitting note, if we consider their Dutch sojourn before the tournament. All together, they played 5 matches there, 3 against clubs and 2 against the national side. India, significantly, won both the international ties.

Look at the preparations. Team India now has a spin doctor in the camp, High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans. He believes in application of state of the art technology and tactics before and after the match. In HIL, the Lucknow team hired him as coach and impressed by his performance, Oltmans was escalated to the new post at the highest level. With Michael Nobbs as head coach, Indian hockey has a shot in the arm.

The team looks bright. The forward line has a good amalgam of both youth energy and experience. With experienced Shivendra back in the squad, SV Sunil will be relieved, who is a very quick dribbler and runner. The talent of Akashdeep and Mandeep, the highest goal scorer of the inaugural HIL for Ranchi Rhinos, is no secret. Nobbs has to give them more opportunity in the centre, as they both are quick scorers. In the midfield, Gurmail, Manpreet and Sardara are in good camaraderie. No doubt Sardara is ‘Pirlo’ for Indian hockey; he’s the major supplier of quality passes for the forward line and always a creative thinker. He is an inspirational force for the team and is a worthy captain. All the specialists of penalty corner stand in the defence line. V R Raghunath has established himself as a more reliable option for PCs. The only problem with Sandeep is that he is fragile in his role of a defender. Rupinder has emerged as another option and now the team has no dearth of talent in matching the Europeans in conversion of PCs. The turf at Rotterdam is fast and it is expected that goalkeepers will have a tough time. It is the area where we can be sure of having the best; both Sreejesh and Rao are world class. Sreejesh has experience of all the big events and matches and no doubt, will be the first choice of both coach and captain under the bar but P T Rao is no way inferior.

Australia or Spain could be the teams that are waiting for India in the semifinals, but first things first. To come out from the pool in top 2 is a tough job. India will begin their campaign against Ireland. If one can remember, Ireland is no pushover. In the previous round of world cup qualifiers in Delhi, they gave a headache to India all the way in the first half, and it took inspirational play in the second half to emerge as victors. The previous year, they missed the bus to the Olympics, when South Korea scored in the last minute to break Irish hearts in front of their home crowd. Their next two opponents are the host nation and the Kiwis in the group stage. Both the teams are well ahead of them in the FIH world rankings and it will practically be an upset if India leapfrog either or both of them to qualify for the semis. The Dutch are an established force and New Zealand has always given a tough time for India, recently defeating the team in Sultan Azlan Shah. If India has to win the tournament, then they have to win at least against 3 out of 4 superior teams, which is a far cry. The task can be achieved but clearly, the heat is on.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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