India had entered the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup with high hopes but ended their campaign in the joint-9th position along with Argentina after beating South Africa 5-2 in a classification match at the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium, here on Saturday.
India, precisely, needs a big win against bottom of the table and debutants Wales in their last Pool D clash of the Hockey World Cup, at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Thursday, which will be a morale booster for them ahead of their knockout stage campaign.
India, who are in the second spot behind England in their four team pool, will need to beat the Welshmen by a huge margin, in order to be table toppers and qualify directly to the quarter final.
Their match will be preceded by the England-Spain clash, which is anticipated to be another razor edge encounter. England have a goal difference of 5 as against India’s 2.
If England lose or draw against Spain, there will be no tension for India as they will need to just beat Wales, irrespective of the margin. However if Spain are beaten, India will need to chalk out a big win against Wales, with the number of goals increasing depending on the English victory margin.
If India finish second in Pool D, their opponents in the crossover round before the quarter final could either be New Zealand or Malaysia.
Irrespective of the England-Spain match result, it will be good for the Indian team, if it wins big, because its forwards or drag flickers have struggled in 2 matches they have played so far.
The Indian coach Graham Reid, though happy that his boys have come through their previous matches against Spain and England without a loss, said “we have been leaking goals since the Tokyo Olympics but now we have had back to back clean sheets. ” He added that his team had conceded too many penalty corners, but at the same time they defended them very well.
Another major reason of concern in the Indian camp is the poor penalty corner conversion rate. Skipper Harmanpreet Singh has been woefully off target as the team has only had one success from 10 attempts, the solitary one coming off a rebound struck home by local lad Amit Rohidas against Spain.
Despite numerous insertions and penetrative forays into their rival striking circle, Indian forwards Abhishek, Lalit Upadhyay and Sukhjeet have faltered. Most of the onslaughts have been cycled from the left channel with midfielder Hardik Singh in tandem with winger Mandeep Singh.
However, there is bad news in the home team as 24 year old Hardik has been ruled out against Wales with a hamstring injury sustained, while trying to create a turnover following a diving tackle by England defender Liam Sanford.
Wales qualified for their maiden World Cup annexing the European qualifier crown beating France at Cardiff in 2021 after co-captain Rupert Shipperley scored the penalty corner match winner. They have come to India after public fund raising to facilitate their participation.
Even though the dice is heavily loaded against them, the Welsh cannot be taken lightly. Central midfielder Shipperley and defender Jacob Draper have donned colours for Great Britain. They have a few players like defender Gareth Furlong, besides midfielders Lewis Prosser and Dale Hutchinson who have each played over one hundred internationals.
The squad will also bank on the experience of strikers Luke Hawker, James Carson and Ben Francis who have nearly three hundred caps amongst them.