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India needs midfield ascendancy against Korea

Source: PTI
September 05, 2011 16:54 IST

A relatively young Indian hockey team will have to play out of their skin and avoid silly errors against a formidable South Korea in Ordos, China, on Tuesday, to maintain their unbeaten run in the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament.

Having started the tournament on a high, with a 5-0 pounding of hosts China, India suffered a setback of sorts when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Japan, largely due to a lapse in concentration by the defensive line, which led to a last-minute equaliser.

But, against the mighty Koreans, they cannot afford to relax at any moment as a defeat at this stage of the tournament can jeopardise their chances of a podium finish. 

Unlike China and Japan, the Indians are also aware that the Koreans are superior opposition side in terms of fitness as well as experience. 

India will be eyeing an outright win, as a defeat or another draw can make life difficult for the Rajpal Singh-led side ahead of tough fixtures against Pakistan and Malaysia.

Under new coach Micheal Nobbs, the Indians have exhibited a new style of hockey in this tournament -- a blend of India's aggression and Australia's sharpness -- which so far paid dividends for the erstwhile Asian giants. But India has a chance against the experienced Koreans if they can hold their rivals in the midfield and cut the runs down the flanks.

The Indian defence of Rupinder Pal Singh and V Raghunath have played well so far in this tournament but need more experience to soak pressure.

For India, the two key areas against Korea will be penalty-corners and midfield. Gurbaj Singh is in good form and Ravi Pal, though erratic, can become the fulcrum if he plays through the middle in tandem with Roshan Minz on the left and Rajpal on the right.

The Indians also need to do away with their mistakes, such as ball trapping during penalty-corners, and giving away soft goals in the dying stages of the match against an opportunistic Korean side.

But, the good thing for India is that they don't have any major injury concern ahead of the last three crucial matches.

Even though captain Rajpal had a scare in the match against Japan after he was hit on his fingers, team doctor Chandran pronounced him fit for the remaining matches.

In spite of huge expectation from his wards, India coach Nobbs is realistic about his team's chances in the tournament.

"As I said earlier, you cannot expect them to do miracles in a month. Everything takes time and when we play teams like South Korea, we would realize what are the negatives and the positives," Nobbs said.

On the other hand, the Koreans are slightly better placed than India, having pocketed full three points from their first two matches.

In their first two outings here, South Korea beat Japan 3-2 and then in an engrossing encounter got the better of Malaysia 4-3.

Like India, Korea is also in a rebuilding phase as a few of the experienced players have taken a break or retired.

The present Korean bunch may not be as strong as the teams of 1998 Asian Games, 2000 Olympics or even the 2006 Monchengladbach World Cup, but they are a resilient lot.

Pace and man-to-man marking are Korea's forte and against India on Tuesday they are sure to adopt these tactics.

However, the Indian think-tank is hardly bothered about the threat posed by Korea.

"There is no doubt about Korea as a team. And neither do we have a team that will step back. It will be a hard, tough match and, hopefully, we will come out richer with the experience," Nobbs said.

Olympian Mohammed Riaz, who is also accompanying the Indian team as coach, seconded Nobbs, saying, "That (experience) comes from playing many matches. The more you play, the better the team becomes as your confidence level increases."

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