November 23 2019
Hockey: India face French test
20 February 2012

Two massive victories in the first two encounters have put a favourite tag on India in the on-going Olympic qualifiers. But this has also increased problems for the hosts as the remaining teams — France, Canada and Poland — are now only focussing on India match alone. They are watching video recordings of India’s matches.

A victory for Poland over fancied Canada on Sunday has opened up the men’s section in which France are yet to lose a point. This means that India will have to tread cautiously in the remaining matches, although an odd defeat is unlikely to make a big difference. Everything will be decided on February 26, the day of the final.

Poland have a history of troubling India — who could forget the 2000 Sydney Olympics game in which they scored a last second goal to throw India out of the semifinals. The hosts have done well in the first two games but then one has to see this performance in perspective. The opponents could hardly test India’s skills. Things may be different against France.

The French team has been the surprise package so far and their win over the Poles on the opening day has forced India to rethink their strategy. Much will depend on how the Mike Nobbs’s boys will use their trump card — drag flicker Sandeep Singh. The three goals in the last game have given him a lot of confidence but the coach will have to tell him to use more variations against France rather than go full-strength and straight.

Another aspect which might be working Indian players’ minds is that they had suffered a shocking loss to France here at Shivaji Stadium in 2004. “The loss in 2004 has no meaning for us as this is an entirely new outfit. We’ve been focussing very hard on our next games and hopefully should not have any problem in qualifying,” said Sandeep.

However, former India skipper Pargat Singh has a different take. “It is too early to judge the strengths and weaknesses of this Indian team. It is against good sides that weakness gets exposed. With teams like Poland and France, which play a man-to-man European style, India need to show some skill to break them down,” said Pargat.

If Indian drag flickers have converted four out of five penalty corners against Italy, the forward line has also given the coach a lot to smile about. Gurwinder Singh Chandi and SV Sunil have been fast and opportunistic. The only cause of worry is the form of Yuvraj Walmiki, who has missed at least three open opportunities.

The only area where India have not been tested truly is in defence. Ignace Tirkey has been looking fit as ever but his team of defenders will definitely have a bigger role in the next three games.



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