BHUBANESWAR: He doesn’t mince words and likes to stick to his guns. A confident “Good Afternoon” from India coach
Harendra Singh greeted the media here at the
Kalinga Stadium on Saturday, the day before India take on Belgium in a Pool C match. And for the boss of the Indian think-tank, it’s a virtual ‘pre-quarterfinal’.
The first objective of all 16 teams featuring in the World Cup here is to reach the top-eight stage without playing the crossovers, and only the four pool-toppers get that privilege.
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On that note, the winner in the match between India and Belgium, two top-ranked teams in Pool C, will take a major step to sit on top once the league stage comes to an end.
“We are not relieved (after the opening win). If you have to go (straight) to the quarterfinals, then tomorrow’s match is a pre-quarterfinal,” Harendra said.
India thumped South Africa 5-0 in their first match, while Belgium had to pull out all stops to get past a dogged Canada 2-1.
“Belgium is a good team since the last 4-5 years, plus they have good circle penetration in modern hockey. But the Indian team has set a trademark of attacking hockey. We won’t compromise on that,” the coach assured.
And then added a rider.
“But we have to take care of the midfield area.”
India’s last match against Belgium was a 1-1 draw at the Champions Trophy. But in the last five head-to-head matches, Belgium have won three times, while India could manage just a solitary win, besides one draw.
When reminded of that record, Harendra urged to look ahead and not behind.
“If we keep reminding ourselves of negative things, it’s not good. At the Hockey World League and the Champions Trophy, we did a lot of good things against them (Belgium). That needs to be shown to the players.
“What bad happened is history. Our problem is we talk about the past a lot and not think about the present. We have taken this team out of that thought process,” said Harendra.
The crowd support in the Odisha capital has always been immense for India, but it will be tested if Belgium score first on Sunday and keep India at bay.
Harendra replied that question with pin-point accuracy.
“If you become defensive after conceding a goal, the crowd also goes silent. But if you keep attacking, the crowd remains energetic. To stay in the game, we have to play attacking hockey. If your shoulders drop, you lose crowd support and momentum,” he reckoned.
Sitting alongside Harendra was India’s star over the last few months,
The striker has rediscovered himself in the new role of link-man assigned to him by Harendra, which has also earned Akashdeep comparisons with the great
“Pillay sir is a big player. I have learnt a lot from him and try to use that in my game,” Akashdeep said with a big smile.
“Coach saab stressed that I can play as a link-man because I have a good (peripheral) vision and understanding with the forwards. And I am enjoying it,” he said as the duo pushed their chairs back to join the team on the training pitch.