Bhubaneswar: From the moment he walked into the press room, coach Harendra Singh's demeanour exuded cautious optimism. There were streaks of familiar bluster, but the realisation that something big lies in store was hard to miss. If it was an act, it was an act done well. Come Thursday, Harendra would like his boys to match his vaunt against a formidable Dutch side.
Despite an impressive all-win scoreline, India's Pool-stage campaign was not entirely spotless. There were sporadic drops in intensity in all three group matches, and the coach underscored the importance of staying switched on for the entire duration of the fixture.
"I agree that there have been instances where we have dropped our intensity, but we can't afford to do that against a team like the Netherlands," he said in the pre-match press conference on Wednesday.
"I have trained my boys to play for 74 minutes - 60-minute game time, 10-minute half-time break and the two-minute recesses between two quarters. They can't put their guard down even in the break, and irrespective of the outcome, we will play with full energy," he said.
Netherlands and India play a similar style of hockey, and the game is expected to be decided by small margins. Creation and conversion of chances hold the key in high-speed hockey, and Harendra said the team will not change its attacking tendency.
"We are not going to do anything different or out of the box. Obviously, there will be some changes, but largely, we will stick to our guns. It's great that India, Netherlands, and Australia all play similar styles of hockey. It will be an even contest, and you can't afford to concede any chances. There will be only three options: shot on goal, goal, or getting a penalty corner. Everything else is immaterial," said Singh.
"Indian team is mentally and physically ready for any challenge. We know the aggressive potential of the Netherlands, and we are fully prepared to meet any challenge they throw at us. We will not accept their challenge, we will overcome them," he said.
India are coming off a four-day break post their 5-1 win over Canada, while the Dutch will be playing their third game inside five days. Breaks such as these can derail momentum, but Harendra refused to dwell on it.
"We knew the schedule six months back, so the planning was there to take care of the break. Even the Netherlands knew that they will be playing thrice in five days, and they would have planned and prepared accordingly. In professional sport, there is no room for excuses. If you don't plan, this five-day break will be an excellent excuse for failure, but we have planned well and we have no excuses with the break," he added.
The Netherlands enjoy an all-win record against India at World Cups, dating back to the heartbreaking loss in the final of the 1973 edition. The contests have been more even in recent past — two wins apiece and a draw in last five matches — but Harendra chose not to reflect on the past. By his own admission, he doesn't understand history.
"I read history, not understand it. Every team that participates in a World Cup, comes with a desire to win. At the business end of the tournament, we expect to play top-ranked oppositions, and it will only get stiffer as we progress. Who knows, India will be number one at 9 PM on 16 December?" he said. His team would hope as much.
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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2018 21:05:58 IST