Rio Olympics 2016: The real test begins for the Indian hockey team
The real Olympic hockey tournament begins from the quarterfinals. India is taking on Belgium in the quarterfinal at Rio tonight at 9pm IST. Belgium who are currently ranked sixth in the world ranking, one rank behind India have topped ‘Group A’ beating higher ranked teams like Australia and Great Britain. It should be an exciting contest with Belgium, FIH Hockey World League silver medalists taking on India, FIH Champions Trophy silver medalists.
Belgium have scored 21 goals in their group stage out of which 20 goals have been field goals and conceded only 5 goals. Whereas India has scored 9 goals out of which they managed 2 field goals and conceded the same numbers of goals. Belgian defeated 12-0, which in fact did increase their numbers on the goals scored sheet.
The Belgian penalty corner goal conversion rate has been low at 6%, out of 17 chances they converted just one into goal. On the other hand, they conceded 13 penalty corners out of which the opponents converted only two into goals.
A fully recovered Tom Boon from a hamstring injury will add to Belgium’s forward line up. Boon will look forward to change and improve the low penalty corner strike rate of the European team. He will be the crucial man alongside midfield Arthur van Doren with the support of Floren Van Aubel, Tanguy Cosyns, Emmanuel Stockbroekx, Thomas Briels and Simon Gougnard.
Penalty corners a problem for India
India’s penalty corner conversion rate stands at 26%, they converted 7 out of the 27 chances. India has a higher penalty corner conceding rate of 33%, their opponents converted 7 out of the 21 chances. After the first three matches, India’s penalty corner goal conversion rate was at 42% and goals conceding rate was 25%. In the last two matches, India converted just 2 out their 15 penalty corners. The side needs to work and improve their penalty corner conversion rate at the same time make sure they don’t give away many penalty corners to their rival.
The Men in Blue need to play attacking hockey with a positive frame of mind and need to maintain superior ball possession and create effective set ups for the forwards by playmakers Sardar Singh, Manpreet Singh, SK Uthappa and company in the midfield. It will be interesting to see how the Indian forwards contest the Belgian defenders, who have been Belgium’s main weapon in this Olympics.
It was just in the last match where the Belgians conceded 3 goals against New Zealand, otherwise, in the first four matches, they had conceded only one goal. Encouraging news for India is that Belgium lost bit of momentum by losing the last match before the quarterfinal.
A good brand of hockey being played by India
The Indian team is playing good European style of hockey just that they need that extra bit of luck to get the desired result. Keeper Sreejesh, with defenders Raghunath, Surender Kumar, Rupinder Pal, Harmanpreet and Kothajit, will need to check the swift ball running, rotational and overlap skills of the Belgians.
The Indian defenders need to be careful especially with the fourth quarter goals. India has conceded five last quarter goals out of which four have been scored in last ten minutes.
S V Sunil who looks like a doubtful starter in India’s forward line due to injury in the match against Canada can hurt India. After Canada’s match coach Oltmans expressed concern, “I don't know. It's too early to say. He needs to have a scan. He fell into the board and injured his wrist”. But captain Sreejesh sounded optimistic, “What I saw it seemed okay to me and he can play in the next match”.
Belgium is definitely the most improved side in the world over the eight years and feared by most teams for their attacking style of play. They have beaten India in their last two meetings in the recent past. Both the victories were by just a goal. India lost to them in the 2014 World Cup 3-2 after leading 2-1 in the match.
In the Olympics, India has won three out of their four outings against Belgium. Their last victory being in 1968. In the London 2012 Olympics, they lost 0-3. Belgium’s only medal in hockey came ninety-six years back in 1920 at Antwerp but the Indians will be looking to make it to the semi-finals with a win.
Captain Sreejesh is positive, “The team is confident and very excited to play the quarter-finals. The way we have performed with consistency has given the team the motivation and self-belief to win. We need to give our 100 per cent on that day (Sunday) and that’s what we aim to do,” he echoed for Team India.
Will Indian hockey make that big turn-around in the quarterfinals? Only time can tell but surely a victory will be a huge boost to millions of Indian before Independence Day back home.