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It's do or die for India
December 09, 2004 19:08 IST
A battered and bruised India would take on New Zealand in their last league match in Lahore on Friday but a loss mean they would be left with no other option but to play for the last two places in the Champions Trophy hockey tournament.
A win against their lowly ranked opponents would give India a chance to match their best-ever performance in the Champions Trophy -- a third place finish in the 1982 at Amstelveen, Holland, but going by their form, it looks a Herculean task.
India have just one win to their credit -- against an experimental German side -- from four matches so far and a victory against New Zealand would set them against either Pakistan or Spain who would be battling out for a berth in the final on Friday.
Holland, seeking a hat-trick of titles, have already qualified for the summit clash with four wins from as many matches and would be playing Germany in their last league engagement.
After four matches each, Holland were sitting atop the points table with 12 points followed by Spain and Pakistan, both of whom were on nine points. India were on the fourth position (3 points) while New Zealand and Germany on one point apiece following their draw on Wednesday.
Except for the match against the defending champions, India hardly showed any fighting qualities in the other two losses and had even struggled to scrape past Germany for the three points.
New Zealand, who showed a lot of promise in the tournament, have the potential to upset the Indians and if they manage to do that they would be playing in the bronze medal match on Sunday.
India, who qualified for the event by default after Olympic champions Australia pulled out on security ground, would certainly not take their opponents lightly who had stunned them at Athens with a last minute winner for a 2-1 victory.
A win tomorrow would be a perfect revenge for the Asian team that has come to the tournament with a young side under veteran player and captain Dilip Tirkey.
"This is our last chance to prove ourselves. We are not going to take any chances against our opponents even though they have remained winless in the competition. We will be going all out to win," Tirkey said.
India have many gaps to plug if they hope to improve on their performance in the remaining matches of the competition.
They need to work on different aspects of their game, forward line in particular, to emerge as a better and stronger team.
In the match against Pakistan, which they lost, they made some good moves but failed to give finishing touches to them. They hardly won any penalty corner through out the tournament which exposed the abilities of the strikers.
The mid-fielders - Viren Rasquinha and Ignace Tirkey -- continued to struggle for control though Vikram Pillay improved his performance after a disappointing outing against Spain.
The defence force, barring Tirkey, looked mediocre but the captain was helped by the presence of Prabodh Tirkey who looked impressive playing as a half back against Pakistan.
Adrian D'Souza was impressive as usual under the bar and was the only saving grace for the side in the loss to Pakistan.
Although some of the players played in the event much below their potential, Tirkey did not have the luxury to effect changes with an almost nil bench strength as Harpal Singh and goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan are unlikely to play at all.
With both Adam Sinclair and Vivek Gupta proving to be liabilities than assets, India must pray for a spirited effort from the remaining players to get the side past the New Zealanders.
The match against the world champions Germany, playing with a second grade team, would give the Holland players a perfect opportunity to fine-tune their skill before Sundays final.
Holland are favourites to finish their league engagements with an all-win record and a thumping loss appears to be in store for Germany in what could be said as the biggest mismatch of the tournament.
The most crucial match of the day, however, would be between Pakistan and Spain as the winners would take on Holland in the final.
In case of a draw, Spain will qualify on the basis of goal difference pushing down Pakistan to play the 3-4 play-off.
The two teams suffered their only defeats against Holland, but going by their form Spain would start as favourites.