A lackluster Indian women’s hockey team would need to tick all boxes against New Zealand in its final Pool B match on Thursday to seal a direct berth in the quarterfinals of the FIH World Cup.
The Indians, who achieved a historic fourth place finish in last year’s Olympics, drew 1-1 against Tokyo bronze medalist England and China in their first two pool matches.
The Savita-led side is currently placed third in Pool B with two points below China and leaders New Zealand, who defeated England 3-1 on Tuesday. According to the tournament format, the 16 teams are divided in four pools of four teams each. The top four sides from each pool will directly qualify for the quarterfinals, while the second and third placed teams will feature in the crossovers.
In the crossovers, the second placed team of Pool A will play against third of Pool D and vice versa, while second of Pool B will face third of Pool C and vice versa for the remaining four quarterfinal spots. So, India would look for an outright win against New Zealand and hope for a Chinese draw or a loss against England to top Pool B.
But going by the way they played in the first two matches, it would be easier said than done. While the Indian defence has impressed in both the matches, denying England a single penalty corner in the first game, it is the performance of the forward line and midfield which was found wanting.
Barring Vandana Katariya, who scored India’s two goals, no other striker could live upto expectations so far with the likes of Lalremsiami, Sharmila Devi and Navneet Kaur cutting a sorry figure. It is not that the Indians didn’t create chances, but they failed to grab those opportunities. The midfield too needs to raise their game as it looked rusty against China.
Penalty corner conversion is also an area of concern for chief coach Janneke Schopman as India made use of just two out of the 12 earned in two games, and that too both the goals coming through indirectly from the sticks of Vandana. While against England, Vandana scored from a rebound, against China she got a beautiful deflection to Gurjit’s flick to draw India level. Gurjit Kaur need to polish her skills and raise her conversion rate if India have to progress far in the tournament.
In terms of rankings, there is hardly anything to separate the two sides as New Zealand are placed eighth while India are a rung below. The Black Sticks women, however, would be brimming with confidence after the win over England. Both the sides would have a fair idea about the equations they need as China and England play earlier on Thursday.