New Delhi: India fought well against the Netherlands on Friday, but went down. On Saturday, they will have to fight again, but only a win will keep them alive in the 10th FIH Junior Men's Hockey World Cup.
The four-team nature of the pool stage means that India's gallant 2-3 loss against the Dutchmen puts them in must-win territory against Canada. Another loss will be fatal to Manpreet Singh's team, putting the much fancied hosts out of the tournament in just two days.
Two things hurt in the loss to Netherlands. One, soft nature of the goals conceded. And two, Indians failing to earn enough penalty corners (PC).
Indian defence made the perennial mistake of playing in one line to concede the second goal on Friday, which is a soft mistake at this level. The third Dutch goal showed lack of coordination on part of the defenders, who were waiting for each other to tackle and/or clear the ball and wasted precious seconds. India's line of defence will certainly have to be more proactive against the Canadians to keep those errors away.
Skipper Manpreet Singh agreed that defensive lapses cost his team dearly. "The first two goals we conceded were because of defensive lapses. So we need to work hard on our defence," he said after the match on Friday.
But Manpreet seemed satisfied with the team's fighting spirit. "The way we played in the second half, we could have won the match."
With Gurjinder Singh in the line-up, India have an extremely potent penalty-corner force in their ranks, which was on show in the second PC they earned against the Netherlands. The pace and accuracy on Gurjinder's flick gave the Dutch 'keeper no chance as the ball rammed into the net to his right. That is enough indicator that against Canada, India will have to keep shuffling between their top two priorities - taking shot at goal and putting the ball onto their opponents' feet.
Tight man-to-man marking by the Netherlands didn't allow Indian forwards enough room upfront, with centre-forward Ramandeep Singh almost non-existent in the first half and cramped for room whenever he tried to make space to receive the ball. Same was the case with Mandeep Singh, who otherwise is known for his intelligent runs to cut the defence. These two have some thinking to do and will be critical to India's chances on Saturday.
Canada showed some teeth in the opening game against Korea but were still handsomely beaten 7-4 by the Asian giants. They are the lowest-ranked teama in Pool C but with potential, ability and reputation to surprise their fancied opponents, which is why India can't take them lightly.