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Posted at: Dec 8, 2017, 2:07 AM; last updated: Dec 8, 2017, 2:09 AM (IST)

India seek Olympian peak

In semis against Oly champs Argentina today, team must play 7/10, says coach Marijne
India seek Olympian peak
India, a team in transition with a new coach and new style of play, have had fluctuating fortunes in the tournament so far. (Above) Goalkeeper Chikte Akash was the standout performer for India against Belgium in the quarterfinals. File photo

Indervir Grewal

Tribune News Service

Bhubaneswar, December 7

India are on familiar ground. For the third time in four years, they find themselves in the semifinals of a major tournament at home.

Common to all the three tournaments — 2014 Champions Trophy, HWL Final in Chhattisgarh in 2015, and the ongoing Hockey World League Final here — is a format that has been criticised by many since it was first tried five years ago.

With all eight competing teams assured berths in the quarterfinals, the pool matches become largely irrelevant, except for deciding the last-8 lineup. The fact that in a knockout match anything can happen, there have been many surprises over the years. India’s great record in these tournaments — not in terms of number of matches won but number of semifinals reached — is a proof of this unpredictability.

Knockout

On Wednesday, India again proved that it is not about being consistent over the first three matches, but about waking up on the right side of the bed on the day of the quarterfinal clash. India, who had one point from three matches in Pool B, ousted Pool A toppers Belgium.

However, to say that the win was a fluke would be unfair to the Indian team. To beat a team of Belgium’s level means India have the capacity to do so. Over the last six years, India have improved by a big margin — they have started to play structured hockey.

What the Indian team has struggled with is finding consistency. In Bhubaneswar, India started with a good performance against Australia, pushing the defending champions before settling for a 1-1 draw. But their level dropped considerably against England and Germany, before they played their best game of the tournament against Belgium.

No alarm

But coach Sjoerd Marijne didn’t sound alarmed by the fluctuation in India’s levels over the four matches. “The difference in the Belgium match was that we made our chances,” said Marijne. “Against Australia, England and Germany, we had the same number of chances as our opponents.”

The Dutchman added that “if you don’t score, things look much worse” than what they are. He felt that in the first three matches, India didn’t stay focused throughout the match, while against Belgium, they were disciplined throughout.

“We were structured, better in one-on-one defending and calm when we had the ball. Even though Belgium had more possession, we held the ball well,” Marijne said a day before India’s semifinal clash against Argentina.

Asked about his views about playing the Olympics champions tomorrow, Marijne said he “wanted to focus on ourselves. We did a few things well and have to improve at others”.

Despite the suspense over which Indian team will turn up against Argentina, Marijne sounded confident. “They put up (set) a standard (with performance against Belgium). Importantly, the players know how they did it. I am confident we can do it again,” said Marijne.

Role of seniors

After the win against Belgium, captain Manpreet Singh said the team was focused on the semifinals. “Last time, we won the quarterfinal but lost the semifinal. This time, we are determined to win the semifinal,” Manpreet said last night after the post-match press conference.

Marijne today said that after the match, Manpreet held a meeting with the team. “He told them, ‘Guys it was a good match but we have to look forward to the next match’. It’s good I don’t have to say that to team. Right from the start, we said that it was player-driven,” Marijne said.

Zonal change

India are going through a transition phase. They changed from a man-to-man system to zonal defence. That takes more understanding between the players. With the change in coach, India’s style has also changed. The team at the HWL Final has six players who have played fewer than 40 matches, including four players with less than 20 appearances. These factors have also contributed to India’s fluctuating level. Talking about the youngsters, Marijne said: “The older they get, the more consistent they will become. But already the consistency is improving.”

The role of the senior players, thus, is even more important in this tournament. “The senior players decide the level of the game the team plays at,” Marijne said when asked if he saw a change in the senior players’ performance in the Belgium match. “If they play well, it becomes easier for the junior players.”

But Marijne added that it was not enough that the seniors played their best. He wanted the whole team to play at a high level. “I don’t want a 10 (out of 10) performance (from a few players). If everybody plays 7 (out of 10), we will do well. We did good yesterday. We played as a team,” Marijne said.

Results

  • ARGENTINA 3-2 ENGLAND
  • GERMANY 4-3 HOLLAND (PENALTY SCHOOTOUT)
    Regulation time: 3-3

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