After a nine-goal thriller on Thursday that saw India beat Belgium 5-4, the Men in Blue will take on Japan in the last pool stage match at the second-leg of the Four Nations Invitational Tournament here at the Gallagher Hockey Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday. India had previously defeated Japan 6-0 in the first leg at Tauranga.
While the team will look to clinch a third-straight win after beating hosts New Zealand 3-2 in the first match, followed by a stunning win against Belgium against whom India had lost twice (1-3 and 1-2) in the previous leg, Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne wants his team to work on their short comings. “We would like to improve our ball possession and we can train on this aspect against Japan. Our 75-yard press needs to improve as well and that is also something we want to work on when we play against Japan,” expressed the 43-year-old Dutchman.
In their emphatic victory against the World No. 3 Belgium side on Thursday, India led twice (1-0, 4-3) before Belgium fought back and snatched the lead twice (2-1, 3-2). But it was a fantastic finish that saw Ramandeep Singh assist India colt Dilpreet Singh to score a winner in the 59th minute. For a team that was earlier bogged down by conceding last-minute goals, India seemed to tick-off the areas that concerned them in this high-stakes match. “The game plan was the same against Belgium but this time we were more effective. We wanted to press hard, we didn’t allow too much space and we wanted to improve our scoring, and finish well which we were successful,” he added.
The team went into the Belgium match minus skipper Manpreet Singh who was rested. Marijne said it was a calculated risk the team took to ensure other young midfielders came to the fore and under Chinglensana Kangujam, midfielders Vivek Sagar Prasad, Nilakanta Sharma and Harjeet Singh held their own sway. “We are here to develop players and if Manpreet wasn’t playing then the other players can show what they’ve got. If you have taken players with you, you need to allow them to play big matches and only then can you see if they are good enough,” Marijne opined.
With another day’s play remaining ahead of the Final on Sunday, India currently lead the pool table with six points followed by hosts New Zealand and Belgium who are placed second and third respectively. It’s only after the New Zealand Vs Belgium match on Saturday that will decide who India will play in knock outs on January 28. For India though, another match against Belgium will mean another litmus test ahead of this crucial year that features the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 where Belgium are grouped with India. “I hope we play Belgium again but it will certainly be a tough match because Belgium is one side who are not used to losing twice. This means we need to bring our A game and show consistency,” Marijne concluded.