India face rejuvenated Poland

With one foot in the final, Nobbs men will look to wrap up league with win

Having virtually secured a spot in the final of the FIH Olympic Qualifiers in sweeping style, India will aim to wrap their league assignments on a high when they lock horns with a rejuvenated Poland here on Friday.

FINISHING TOUCHES: Indian coach Michael Nobbs discusses a point with the players during a training session in New Delhi on Thursday. AFP

Until now, things now have gone to plan for the determined Indians, who have justified their billing as the team to beat with a series of fine performances against their past four opponents.

They made the best use of the ‘practice’ matches against minnows Singapore and Italy by scoring goals at will, before reining in dangerous France and second seeds Canada with an all-round effort that has seen them stay on top of the table right throughout.

However Poland, currently in second spot at nine points and three behind India, have everything to play for as a victory could power them into Sunday’s title clash, turning this clash against the hosts into a potential dress-rehearsal at the Major Dhyan Chand National stadium.

While choosing to rest aching legs on Thursday, the Poles would certainly have peered into tapes of the hosts’ clashes against France and Canada, where their in-form strikers found it difficult to continuously penetrate sturdy defences.

Although Michael Nobbs’ men were successful in unlocking them eventually by applying relentless pressure, the Poles, who too employ a similar workmanlike European style, will take cue from the Canadians and the French.

After a wretched start to their campaign when they lost to France, Bas Dirks’ men have bounced back strongly to put themselves back in contention.

Dark horses

The dark horses, who had a lengthy training session in Chile in the build-up to this tournament because of the freezing weather back home, battled past Canada in their second match before easing past minnows Italy and Singapore to spice up the competition which otherwise has seen too many lop-sided contests.

Captain Dariusz Rachwalski has stressed throughout that while India are the favourites, there is very little to choose between France, Canada and them, and nothing would give him more joy than vindicating the statement by leading his team into the winner-takes-all final.

Having said that, India have very little worry to about with things falling in place as they enter the home straight with a lot of confidence.

Their strikers have been brilliant on the flanks and down the centre, setting up a lot of opportunities with only the final supply and finishing needing some polishing. Their weakest link – the defence – got the required workouts against France and more so against Canada, whose sharp counter-attacking caught them unawares at times.  While they did produce a decent effort, their tentativeness was visible and they will have to buckle up quickly. It remains to be seen if India will go all out considering they have pretty much wrapped up their spot in the final.  Whether they conserve energy for Sunday by going for a draw or put Poland in their place is something that will be answered when the match kicks off.

There is an interesting twist of vengeance to this contest, with many hoping India pay back for the 2000 Sydney Olympics horror when the Poles equalised in the last minute to deny India a shot in the semifinals.

India have since enjoyed the upper hand, including a 7-0 drubbing at November’s Champions Challenge, and will be keen to maintain that dominance.

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