Rio Olympics 2016, Hockey: Indian Tigers to battle the Red Lions of Belgium in men’s hockey quarterfinals
The draws for the quarterfinals of the men’s hockey have been decided after the conclusion of the last matches from Group A, late in the night at the hockey stadium of Deodoro Olympic Park, Rio de Janeiro. Spain face Argentina whereas the Dutch are pitted against world no. 1 Australia.
Group B leaders and defending champions Germany face the Kiwis - who sneaked in at the expense of Great Britain – by defeating Belgium, the table toppers form group A in their last match. So that left India to face the fiery Belgians, nicknamed the Red Lions!
Let’s look at India’s form and some key points that will determine the outcome of the quarter-final match of the Olympics.
Close but not closed
In all of India’s games in the group stages, the games ran very close, one even after the hooter went off for 5 successive penalty corners! It was pretty much even-stevens as 2 results went in India’s favor and 2 against while the remaining one was a draw. Moreover, India’s goal difference of 0 also aptly reflects this balance!
Although the results have not gone India’s way, the ability to close matches in the dying minutes, be it by a win or levelling the scores would be demotivating.
But, the major positive that India can take from this is that it has been in tight positions and knows the pressure and perhaps can tackle a similar situation if need be in the next match. Belgium on the other hand, except for their game against Australia, have had a relatively comfortable passage into the knockout stage.
Woes against the so-called “Bogey” teams
It would be unfair to call Belgium a bogey team, because the rankings don’t reflect the same. Both teams have moved past each other in the rankings many times in the last one year. But if you talk about some teams that have always managed to get the better of India in the recent few years, then this Belgian side comes to mind.
Be it the Hockey World League (HWL) or the Champions Trophy editions of last few years, Belgium have always managed to beat India.
Their 2-1 win in the group stages of the recently concluded Champions Trophy and the unforgettable 4-0 mauling from the Hockey World League semifinals in Antwerp corroborate this fact.
However, India had a dubious record against Argentina but managed to beat them in the pool matches recently - the first victory since 2009! Perhaps this gives the much-needed self-confidence to the Indian team.
Expect the unexpected
Fans and players would have thought defeating Canada would not only be easy but would also vastly improve India’s goal difference. But the same has been the case with lower ranked teams Spain and Belgium, getting the better of world no. 1 Australia.
India have played good hockey so far, only the results have not been in their favour. Let's hope that they follow the popular saying - Hope, dream, believe.
Strikers and field goals
Wasteful in front of goal, the strikers have looked lacklustre. They have squandered many chances and not managed to work the keepers and defenders so far. But, Akashdeep and Ramandeep dug in deep to finally score their first goals in the tournament.
The latter managed to score what was India’s second field goal in the process.
However, one cause of worry is striker SV Sunil’s wrist injury that he sustained after crashing on the advertisement boards in the last match against Canada. India would be racing against time to have him fit for the match.
His raw pace and runs down the flanks would prove to be handy against the Belgium’s attacking brand of European style hockey. Another cause of concern is the over-dependence on penalty corner specialists who can’t be depended upon each time around.
Enter Oltman’s territory
Roelant Oltmans, India’s coach, thrives in such situations. He wanted India to qualify for the quarters, which was the first goal. Now that this target is achieved he will prepare his boys both tactically and strategically to counter every strength of the Belgian side.
He certainly has the personnel to translate his plans on the field. The players have responded to all his tactical plays, be it changing of position or the sweeper-keeper move at the fag end of the match.
Big match players
Sardar, Manpreet and Devinder among others usually turn up at the big occasions and it is time that they unleash some magic. Sardar, in particular, has been given a free role away from his previous central defensive midfield duties.
He has been stable throughout the tournament but we haven’t seen that one moment of brilliance from him, be it a shimmy to dodge onrushing defenders or a killer defence splitting pass! So much rests on his shoulders when the team looks for some magic or when the match and conditions are not favoring India.
A narrow 2-1 victory in favor of India.
Key players: Devinder Walmiki and Danish Mujtaba