India are going to begin their Men's Hockey World Cup 2018 campaign on 28 November against South Africa. It is a match that India should try to not just win but win by a huge margin.
India are clubbed with Belgium, Canada and South Africa in group C. Only one team from the group will get a direct entry into the quarter-final stage, with the second and third-placed teams having to play cross over matches to have a chance at playing the quarter-finals.
Belgium are the highest-ranked team in the group at world number three, followed by India at world number five. Belgium have been doing well in big global tournaments. They are the silver medallists from the 2016 Rio Olympics. It is expected that the winner of the Belgium-India match would most likely top the group and thus have a direct entry into the quarter-finals.
However, if the match ends in a draw, the team with a better goal difference in the group stage will top the group. Of course, this is the case assuming that both Belgium and India will win against the two lower-ranked sides in the group, which is a distinct possibility.
Even though India should try and win all three matches in the group stage, it will be wise for India to play an aggressive brand of hockey so that they can score as many goals as possible in the group stage. This does not require India to play differently, as the Manpreet Singh-led side is a naturally attacking one.
Even though they had one poor match in this year’s Asia Cup, they had begun their campaign in style by scoring heavily against hapless opponents in their early round matches, including eventual champions Japan, a feat they subsequently repeated in the Asian Champions trophy.
A similar brand of attacking hockey is exactly what they would need to produce against the lowest-ranked side in the group. They play Belgium next and a confident show against South Africa will bolster their confidence going into that all-important match.
Topping the group will help India in more ways than one. By doing so, they will not only gain confidence, but also get an extra day to rest and keep themselves fresh for the knock-out stage.