Determined India take on Belgium

Unbeaten England face Germany

They passed the Oranje test in flying colours for the first time in a generation but all that will count for nothing when they lock horns with Belgium in the fourth quarterfinal of the FIH Champions Trophy here on Thursday.

With old problems rearing its ugly head in their previous two encounters, India had plenty riding against them before their final Pool B game against the Netherlands but they surprised one and all by beating the modern powerhouses for the first time in 18 years.

Determined to prove that they have learnt from their mistakes after losing the two preceding games, the Indians showed rare character to seal a cherished win.

Kept on a tight leash by the ultra-organised Dutch for the opening two quarters, the Indians rode their luck before stunning the eight-time winners in the remaining two, much to the delight of the raucous crowd at the Kalinga Stadium.

The familiar woes that had bogged the country were conspicuous by its absence. The defence, although given a severe workout by the high-pressing Dutchmen, held its composure, while the strikers showed patience when things weren’t going their way.

Unlike in the previous matches when they just kept whacking the ball into the ‘D’ without vision, they held the ball well against the Netherlands, attacking with a bit more purpose.

What impressed most was their composure during the final minutes, their Achilles heel. Netherlands reduced the margin to 2-3 with two minutes left and while they would have caved in mostly in the past, the Indians held possession well to show they can stand up when the pressure mounts.

However, all that won’t matter one bit against Belgium, who beat the Indians through a final minute winner during their last encounter at the World Cup in May. The Belgians, despite playing in just their second Champions Trophy, are one of the most improved sides in world hockey and are hungry to cap their growth with the crown here.

After starting with an edgy victory over Pakistan, the Red Lions, trailing 3-0 against defending champions Australia, showed their never-say-die attitude in drawing 4-4. They drew against England too, but in all the three matches the reason behind their rise was there for everyone to see.

Solid at the back, they have the superb skill to turn defence into attack in a split second that even world champions Australians struggled to cope with. Only once has their defence appeared unorganised but with the strikers making up for their mistakes, the Red Lions are probably the dark horses to go all the way.

Barring Tom Boon, they don’t have many superstar players but with all sticking to plan and rarely venturing into extravagance, they will prove a tough nut to crack for the hosts.

Another major problem that has plagued the Indians in the past is inconsistency, and if they should slip into ordinary mode then then may end up fighting for classification spots.

Meanwhile, in the day’s opening quarterfinal, the Netherlands will be taking on three-time winners Pakistan who have looked completely mediocre here.

Defending champions Australia, seeking their sixth straight title, run into Argentina in the second last-eight battle. The Kookaburras, who successfully retained the World Cup this June, have struggled to flex their muscles like they normally do but knock-outs generally awakens the ruthlessness in them.

England, the only undefeated team apart from Belgium, face a struggling Germany and it’s a contest they would relish as they seek a first Champions Trophy medal.
DH News Service

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