Former Indian hockey player Jagbir Singh reckons the Belgium clash against India in their second Pool-C game of Hockey Men’s World Cup 2018 in Bhubaneshwar leaves the host nation with the best chance to earn a direct qualification in the quarterfinal stage of the game. India had made a commanding start to the elite 16-nation tournament with a remarkable 5-0 win over South Africa on Wednesday (November 28). Ergo, a win tonight will assure India of finishing atop in their group that also includes Canada.
Seeking to reclaim the elusive title after a gap of 43 years, India made a strong start to the tournament displaying astute attacking finesse that saw 29 circle penetrations and a pass accuracy of 66.71 per cent. While Simranjeet Singh scored a brace, Mandeep Singh along with Akashdeep Singh and Lalit Upadhyay finished with a goal apiece.
“It was outstanding! Exactly what India wanted to start with. Not only in terms of good goalscoring but also not conceding any,” said Jagbir in an exclusive interview.
However, like before, Jagbir did point out inconsistency being the major issue for Team India in big tournaments. “India have to be consistent throughout the tournament. This is something, this is an area which has been an area of concern. So keeping fingers crossed,” added the Olympian.
In the game against South Africa, two of India’s goal came from penalty corners out of a total four attempt, and both of those were of indirect hit or rebound. Although Jagbir remained unfazed over the penalty-corner conversion rate, he did point out that a direct goal would have given Harmanpreet Singh more confidence. “It does, in terms of direct goal in penalty corners. But the ultimate, two goals out of four penalty corners is a good thing even if it is coming out of a rebound or deflection. But a direct goal would have been better then Harmapreet could have been more confident,” said the Arjuna awardee.
India now face a stern test in their second pool-C game against Belgium on Sunday (December 2) who are heading into the game after a not-so-impressive 2-1 win over Canada. However, India had to settle for a 1-1 draw in their last meeting in Hockey Champions Trophy 2018 in Breda by conceding a late goal. In fact, in their 19 meetings since 2013, the world No.5 have managed to win only five times against Belgium’s 13.
Talking about the Belgium game, Jagbir said, “Every tournament is a different ball game and it is played in a different tempo altogether with World Cup being the ultimate. And given the tournament formation of crossovers, none of the team would like to position themselves in the backfoot and go all out. This is their chance to be the leaders in the pool and be comfortable to play the quarterfinals directly rather than getting into an extra match of crossover.
“There cant be any style prediction early. But India would play the normal game they have been playing and so will Belgium. And yes, Belgium will try and close down the moment the space of Indian forward that the Indians enjoy against the weaker opponents. They may not find that space against Belgium. But looking at the confidence of the Indian team especially the strikers, it looks good.”
Jagbir also went ahead to mention the four key players in the game based on their positions. He said, “Goalkeeper P Sreejesh, in defense it has to be Birender Lakra, for a very key role, for the midfield it will be Manpreet all the way and I would expect Akashdeep as well.”