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Hockey WC- India to play crucial pre-quarter/crossover match vs NZ tomorrow

Coach Reid promises more spruced up performance

India Hockey coach Graham Reid (File) Indian team captain Manpreet Singh with head coach Graham Reid during a practice session ahead of the match against Wales at Kalinga Hockey Stadium in Bhubaneswar | PTI

The knockout stage for host India begins tomorrow with its crossover match against New Zealand. The host's team had a practice session under lights at the Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneswar on Saturday evening, aiming to iron out the minor issues in their game. 

They are no doubt hit by the absence of injured Hardik Singh. The attacking midfielder suffered a hamstring injury during India's second pool match against England in Rourkela and is ruled out of the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup 2023. He is replaced by Rajkumar Pal. Chief coach Graham Reid expressed satisfaction with the form Rajkumar is in, describing him a worthy replacement, especially with his past performance against New Zealand in FIH Hockey league matches.  

“Hardik is a good player, and in very good form. But Raj, who has replaced him, is also in good form and one of the future stars. It is disappointing for Hardik, exciting for Raj. Those who watched New Zealand (match) earlier, you would have seen some of the stuff he can do. So we are confident. Difficult for Hardik but we have enough talent to compensate,” said Reid. 

Host India finds themselves in unenviable position of playing the crossover match after finishing second in Pool D, behind England, even though both teams finished with seven points, each having won two and drawn one match each. However better goal difference meant England go directly to the last eight while India was left to rue their fumbling win against Wales.

Reid also said that India needed to strengthen its defence further and indicated that things would get even more tougher for the opponents from tomorrow onwards. “We have played them (NZ) earlier, we scored a lot. We need to tighten our defence. Our defence is more set, playing a lot tighter. (In the previous pool matches) We were still trying to work out who our best six were, we have done that now, looking for a strong defensive performance tomorrow night,” said Reid. 

Defence apart, India has been found wanting in its penalty corner conversion as well as finishing off moves in front of the goal. 

Reid admitted the host was under pressure but exuded full confidence in his players to come through with flying colours and proceed further into the competition. “They (NZ) have got nothing to lose, but all the pressure is on India, and that's true. I also back my players to stand up under pressure and if we play well, nothing has changed from my point of view. When I first came to this tournament, I said we can beat any team and that's still true.” 

On allowing Wales to score goals knowing that India needed to score eight goals in the match, Reid said the team got to know this just before the game started and the players tried to overcompensate. “Just before the game we found out that we need to score eight goals, that goes through the head; instead of doing a normal calm thing, moving the ball around, I think we overcompensated. Looking at the video, I was more happy with our performance. On that night, I was disappointed. There was some really nice stuff that we did. When everyone is trying to score, you end up giving 5-6 in the goal. We hope to fix that.” 

Indian skipper Harmanpreet Singh said that creating scoreboard pressure in the first few minutes of match was key and the team was ready for it. “Everybody knows how important a game it is for now; even 50:50 chances are going to be important for us. If our press is good then it's good for the defenders as well, because you don't give away possession. We know what we are going to do. we know if we keep pressure, we will get one or two opportunities to score or get PC.” 

Meanwhile, in another injury scare, midfielder Mandeep Singh was hit on the knee during training and was seen limping off the field. He took no further part in the team’s training. However, Reid did not comment on his injury when asked. 

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