Bhubaneswar, December 7: Their campaign off to a smooth start, hosts India would look to seal a direct quarterfinal berth with a win against Canada in their final Pool C match of the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup on Saturday (December 8).
World number 5 India are currently leading Pool C with four points from two games ahead of Olympic silver medallist Belgium (4 points) on account of a better goal difference.
The Manpreet Singh-led India have a goal difference of + 5 as against Belgium's +1. Both Canada and South Africa have one point each from two matches but the North Americans are placed third with a goal difference of -1 as against South Africa's -5.
🏑🇮🇳 @manpreetpawar07 -led Indian team is inching closer to a World Cup quarter-final berth with a game in hand against Canada.— #teamindia 🇮🇳 (@teamindiasports) December 7, 2018
Photo by AFP | #ManpreetSingh #SardarSingh #TeamIndia #IndiaKaGame #HWC2018 #DilHockey #Hockey #Sportwalk pic.twitter.com/V05SWyYEam
While India are placed at an advantageous position at present, the pool is still wide open. The hosts would not want to leave anything on chance and would seek a comprehensive win to cement their place atop the pool and directly qualify for the last-eight round.
The second and third placed teams from the pool will play cross-over matches against number 2 and 3 teams of other pools to decide the remaining last four quarterfinal places.
Going by records and form, India are firm favourites against Canada.
Besides the better rankings, India enjoy a superior head-to-head record against Canada. Since 2013, India and Canada have played five matches with the former having won three, lost one and drawn one.
The onus would be on India's lethal fowardline comprising Mandeep Singh, Simranjeet Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Lalit Upadhyay to take the responsibility on their shoulders.
The Indian midfield, led by skipper Manpreet, has so far produced a decent show, while the defence need to be more agile and cautious, especially considering the fact that the backline is infamous for crumbling under pressure towards the end.
Conceding late goals has been India's perennial problem and it once again came to hurt the hosts when their defence, consisting of Birendra Lakra, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh, broke down under pressure to concede a goal four minutes from the final hooter and gift Belgium a draw in their last match.
Indian goalkeeper P R Sreejesh too does not look the same under the bar after returning to the side following an injury lay-off.
.@16Sreejesh has been wearing the Indian Men’s Hockey team jersey for the past 12 years and he has only gotten better with age.— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) December 6, 2018
Read further: https://t.co/Y1hxx5RUc7#IndiaKaGame #HWC2018 #DilHockey pic.twitter.com/QvDSqFaOfo
Canada have given India problems in the past, the most recent being in last year's Hockey World League (HWL) semifinals in London where they defeated India 3-2 to finish fifth, a performance which helped them clinch the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup berth. It may be recalled that at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Canada held India to a 2-2 draw.
But India's chief coach Harendra Singh was not in a mood to dwell in the past and said those experiences will only act as catalyst to do better.
"Past failures are experiences. These experiences we will try to make use the present. The present is the match against Canada. The match will decide the fate of our pool. I am not thinking about what happened in HWL semifinal or Rio Olympics," Harendra said.
While insisting that Canada will rely on counter-attacks, the coach said India can't divert from its strength -- that is attacking hockey.
"They will not give space. They wait, wait and wait to get opportunities and that will be their plan. But we have to play to our strength," Harendra said.
"You can't go and defend. You can't be on the backfoot. We have to play attacking hockey. The players have adopted attacking hockey when they were teenagers. It's in our culture. You can make minor adjustments, but not change the mindset," he added.
Belgium takes on South Africa in the other match of the day.
(With PTI inputs)
Belgium vs South Africa, 5pm
India vs Canada, 7pm
Live on Star Sports Network