Defending champions India need to beat hosts Indonesia by a huge margin and hope Japan defeat Pakistan in the other Pool A match for advancing to the knockout stage of the Asia Cup men’s hockey tournament in Jakarta on May 26.
India’s fate is not in their own hands anymore as even a win against lowly Indonesia will not guarantee them a knock-out berth. Japan will have to beat Pakistan to keep India’s faint hopes alive.
With a draw and a loss, India are placed third in Pool A behind Japan (6 points) and Pakistan (4 points).
Under the guidance of Sardar Singh, India fielded a young team in the tournament alongside a handful of seniors like Birendra Lakra and S.V. Sunil, who came out of retirements. But the senior duo looked well past their prime if their performances in the two matches so far are to go by.
India conceded a last minute goal to draw 1-1 against Pakistan in their tournament opener before being thrashed by Japan 2-5.
But now, a “next to impossible” task awaits the Indians as they not only have to score big against Indonesia but also hope that Japan beat Pakistan in the other Pool A match on May 26 if they are to progress to the Super 4 stage.
India have a goal difference of minus three as against Pakistan’s plus 13. If Pakistan lose to Japan, India will have to beat Indonesia by a huge margin to go past their western neighbours in goal difference and advance further in the tournament.
Inexperience was the major reason behind India’s below-par performances as the young players, mainly drafted from the last Junior World Cup squad, are finding it difficult to get a measure of the level of international hockey.
In the two matches so far, the Indians lacked cohesion in the three departments – defence, midfield and forwardline.
The Indians lacked a quality playmaker in the midfield, which was evident from their constant efforts of building attacks from the centre instead of using both the flanks more frequently.
Lakra looked a pale shadow of himself in the backline, which has crumbled big time when put under relentless pressure.
The forwadline has been wasteful with the likes of Tokyo Olympian Simranjeet Singh and youngster Uttam Singh not having the best of outings.
The lanky and strongly built Pawan Rajbhar is the only player who have impressed with his commitment and stick work in the two matches, creating chances and also scoring a goal.
Penalty corner conversion is another area where the Indians are struggling as they lack a quality drag-flicker in the side after veteran Rupinder Pal Singh pulled out at the last minute due to a wrist injury.
With the odds staked against them, the young Indian players could be pepped up to give their best shot on Thursday and show they can rise to the occasion.