Defending champions India need to beat hosts Indonesia by a wide margin and hope Pakistan beat Japan in another Group A match to advance to the knockout stage of the men’s hockey tournament at the Asian Cup here on Thursday.
The fate of India is not in their hands anymore, even a victory over modest Indonesia will not guarantee them a berth by knockout. Japan will have to beat Pakistan to keep India’s faint hopes alive.
With a draw and a loss, India finished third in Group A behind Japan (6 points) and Pakistan (4 points).
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Under Sardar Singh’s stewardship, India fielded a young team in the tournament along with a handful of seniors like Birendra Lakra and SV Sunil, who came out of retirement. But the big duo looked good in their flourishing period if their performances in the two games thus far were to last.
India conceded a last-minute goal in a 1-1 draw with Pakistan in the opening match of the tournament before defeating Japan 2-5.
But now, an “almost impossible” task awaits the Indians as they not only have to score big goals against Indonesia, but also hope that Japan will beat Pakistan in the other Group A match on Thursday if they are to advance to the Super 4 stage.
India has a goal difference of three besides Pakistan plus 13. If Pakistan loses to Japan, India will have to beat Indonesia by a wide margin to surpass its western neighbors on goal difference and advance further in the tournament.
Lack of experience has been the main reason behind India’s subpar performance as young players, who were mainly drawn from the last U-20 World Cup squad, find it difficult to get a measure of the level of international hockey.
In the two matches so far, the Indians have lacked cohesion in the three divisions – defense, midfield and front line.
The Indians lacked a quality playmaker in midfield, which was evident from their constant efforts to build attacks from the middle rather than using both sides frequently.
Lakra looked pale to himself in the back line, which collapsed a long time ago when he was subjected to relentless pressure.
The forwadline has been a waste of time with players like Tokyo Olympian Simranjit Singh and young Utam Singh not having the best matches.
Slim and well-built Pawan Rajbar is the only player who impresses with his commitment and hard work in both matches, creating chances and also scoring a goal.
Converting a penalty is another area in which the Indians struggle as they lack a quick blink in the side after veteran Rupinder Pal Singh retired in the last minute due to a wrist injury.
With all the odds, the young Indian players can do their best on Thursday and show they can rise to the occasion.
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