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India hope to spring another surprise in semis

Sidney Kiran, DH News Service, Bhubaneswar, Dec 7 2017, 21:56 IST
Sjoerd Marjine expressed his happiness over India's improving consistency as a team.

Sjoerd Marjine expressed his happiness over India's improving consistency as a team.

It may be too early to arrive at a judgement but looking at this Indian team's performance at the World League Final so far, the only parallel that comes to mind is the Pakistan cricket team - inept one day but brilliant another.

While a knockout affair can be anybody's game, hardly anyone expected India to beat Belgium like the way they did following an indifferent group campaign where they managed to earn just one point. But, putting those two poor group performances behind them, this youthful and unpredictable Indian side came out roaring, dishing out one of their best performances in recent times.

All the tough questions that were posed at them were answered in style. First, they showed the verve and spunk in attack and when the pressure was on them towards the end following a stirring fightback from the Olympic silver medallists, they displayed great character to not let the game slip away from their hands. Even in the shoot-outs that fluctuated crazily, young goalkeeper Akash Chikte stood tall when the pressure was its highest, producing quality saves to power the hosts into the semifinals.

It's these sort of wins in the aftermath of lacklustre displays that sometimes can act as a trigger to strive for glory. Featuring the youngest side in this tournament (average age 23.5 years), India stand on the cusp of creating something special. If they manage to dish out another strong performance against Argentina in the semifinal, then they will be assured of a medal which could further propel the careers of six players who were part of the side that won the Junior World Cup last year.

Youth brings with it exuberance but at the same time they can be found wanting against seasoned practitioners. India have shown both the sides in the four games so far, brilliant in two and fallible in the other two. The Indians will be hoping to bring out their dangerous avatar on Friday.

"I saw in the match (against Belgium), the defending was better. I have statistics next to me. We are really a team, we play together and we fight together as a team on the pitch. They (the juniors in the side) know what success is. I am happy with that. Already for me, the consistency is getting better and better. It's good for India," said India coach Sjoerd Marjine on Thursday.

Olympic champions Argentina, who also started the tournament slowly, looked their part on Thursday against England. They were outclassed by Belgium in the opener but showed good heart to hold Netherlands 3-3 in a thriller before slumping to a defeat against Spain. Maybe they didn't want to exert themselves knowing the baffling nature of the format. Against England on Thursday night, they were pushed hard but they defended strongly to script a hard-fought win.

Argentina will want to continue their resurgence but India have a great chance to ensure there is a packed house for Sunday's final.

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