Hockey World League: India aspire for good show against Australia
Antwerp: Their campaign passing along smoothly, India will now look to upstage fancied world champions Australia in their last preliminary match of the World League semifinals on Sunday.
India's show against Australia will go a long way in deciding the final pool positions, with Pakistan staying in the frame after the subcontinental encounter on Friday ended in a 2-2 draw.
The Sardar Singh-led side will have to produce an improved show if they want to maintain a winning momentum.India have managed two narrow victories ahead of the draw against Pakistan, while Australia have posted impressive victories in all their outings, including a 6-1 drubbing of Pakistan.
India's new coach Paul van Ass, the former Dutch national coach, is hopeful that his wards will showcase their skills against the best outfit in contemporary hockey.
Australia last year completed a hat-trick of World Cup victories at The Hague and became the first country to win title thrice in a row -- at Monchengladbach, New Delhi and The Hague.
Fielding several young players here with the focus on testing the junior in top-level competitions and also a spate of injuries, India have the luxury of going into the contest with little at stake.
The Asian Games gold medal in Incheon has already secured India's passage to the 2016 Olympics, while for several teams the ongoing World League Semifinals are the last chance to qualify for Rio de Janeiro's Olympic Games.
"Let's be fair, Australia are No. 1 and India are ranked No. 9 in the world," said coach van Ass as he assessed India's chances against Australia.
Indian captain Sardar Singh says his players are improving with every outing.
"We are drawing inspiration from our win over Australia in the Azlan Shah Cup two months ago," said Sardar, referring to India's 4-2 win following which Australia have inducted all top players in the side.
"The young players are relishing the opportunity, and we're playing well as a unit," said Sardar, whose team is here without both seasoned penalty corner shooters. India's defence, featuring two young players, will face its stiffest challenge from the fast-overlapping Australian strikers, whose showpiece performance was last year's 6-1 drubbing of The Netherlands in the title encounter of the World Cup.
It was the biggest margin of victory in the final encounter in World Cup history.
India's strikers have been misfiring a lot. With a little more focused shooting in the closing stages of the match against Pakistan, India could have clinched a late match-winner, but they muffed three scoring chances in the last five minutes.
The draw between India and Pakistan has kept hanging the fate of the pool positions for both nations. Australia's 4-0 victory over Poland last night kept them at the top of the group standings with maximum nine points from three outings.
India have seven points from three matches, while Pakistan are on four points from three games.
Only a shock Indian victory can deprive Australia of the top slot, but the second place is still up for grabs. India's good show against Australia can ensure them the second spot.
Pakistan will seek to post a big win against minnows France to bolster their goal-difference and edge ahead of India if the two are tied on points.
In Pool B, hosts Belgium have moved to the top of the standings with after their 2-0 victory over Malaysia last night. The Belgians have seven points from three outings, followed by Malaysia on six points from three games.
Great Britain have five points after winning one and drawing two matches, followed by Ireland with four points in three matches following their 6-0 rout of China. The Chinese have finished their four league fixtures without garnering a point.