On-song India face dangerous France

After getting off to a flying start, Nobbs men will look to retain momentum

 Twenty-three goals from their opening two matches says a lot about the form and confidence of the Indian men’s hockey team at the moment.

Having realised that nothing less than victory in the current FIH Olympic Qualifiers would help resurrect the reeling national game, the players have matched action with talk through splendid on-field performances that have turbo-charged their desire to make the trip to the London Games.

They disposed of last-minute entrants Singapore 15-1 with a brutal assault in their opener before dishing out another magical performance against Italy, blasting eight goals at the Major Dhyan Chand National stadium on Sunday to strengthen the belief amongst fans that they can pull off the tricky task ahead of them.

Almost everything has gone according to plan for coach Michael Nobbs and company. The strike force of SV Sunil, Gurwinder Singh Chandi, Tushar Khandkar, Shivendra Singh, Yuvraj Walmiki, Sarvanjit Singh, SK Uthappa, Danish Mujtaba and Sarvanjit Singh has totally embraced the Australian’s all-out attack approach.

Seldom has the forward line-up looked so much on song and in rhythm, their fitness, energy, passing, stick work, anticipation and conversion a treat to watch despite the low quality of the opposition. Playing the feeder role to perfection, the midfield, led by the enterprising Sardar Singh, has kept the supplies flowing consistently, hardy allowing anything to get past them and pushing their rivals on to the back foot from the start.

Credit has to be given to Nobbs for optimising the usage of rolling substitutions. The Australian, with data supplied continuously by exercise physiologist David John, has shuffled his players really well, keeping no player on the field for more than four minutes in a bid to maintain high energy levels.

Having said that, the only area -- India’s weakest -- that has not been called into action much in the last two matches is the defence. Although they’ve had very little to do than making the odd clearance, they will be tested this week, which could make the difference.
Next up for the hosts, who rested on Monday and stayed away from practice, will be the spirited France on Tuesday, followed by the dangerous Canada 24 hours later.

Ranked eight rungs below India at 18, France have emerged surprise contenders with two splendid performances to sit pretty in second place below the hosts.

Currently in a rebuilding phase under new coach Frederic Soyez, the team has punched well above its weight, looking far better than a disappointing last-place finish at last year’s Euro Hockey Nations Championships, where they lost all their five matches, would suggest.

They opened their campaign with a gritty 2-1 win over Poland before climbing to second in the league table with a crushing 9-0 demolition of Singapore. Striker Martin Genestet, with five goals against Singapore, has emerged has the surprise leading scorer of the tournament.

Nothing will enco­­u­r­age them more than giving favourites India a run for their money, but the hungry hosts will be aiming to fire their third salvo in succession.

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