Bhubaneswar: After scoring 10 goals against the Uzbeks, Indian men's hockey team have topped their Pool with three back-to-back victories and ensured they directly qualify for the semi-final of the FIH World Series.
The results of India's Pool matches were more or less expected considering the wide ranking difference that exists between the teams. The tricky part begins now as Graham Reid's side will look to avoid setback against Japan or Poland in their road to the final.
Knockout matches don't give second chances and one small error can cause the downfall. Indian men's hockey team captain Manpreet Singh is keen to avoid errors and wants to take the game away from their opponents as soon as possible.
"If you commit a mistake in the group stages, at least you'll get a chance to rectify it in the next game. But mistakes in a knockout match can prove costly. Like at the World Cup, we committed few errors in the quarter-final against the Netherlands and it did cost us. So, the general idea is to avoid mistakes and score as soon as possible," Manpreet said to Firstpost after Indian team's victory against Uzbekistan.
Coach Reid also spoke about the importance of starting on a strong note and converting the chances. In the previous matches, despite the scorelines, Indian team has not been very clinical when it came to scoring. The problem is not with creating chances, but making most of the opportunities.
"I often talk to the team that we will get good two or three opportunities in the first five minutes. The idea is to trying to make sure we get those opportunities. We are aware of it, we always want to start quickly and crack opportunities to get the scoreboard pressure (on the opponents)," Reid said during the post-match press conference.
"Of course, we always want more goals. Those things take time to get better and we are working with the strikers to get in better positions. I was happy with a lot of movements which was happening today and I am happy that we are creating opportunities and that's always important."
Striker Mandeep Singh, who scored two goals in the victory against the Uzbeks, said that the team wanted to clear the group stage without any hurdles and now they will focus on the semi-final and will train to expose their opponent's weakness.
"Our initial focus was on clearing the Pool stage. We wanted to clear the three-match hurdle and now we will focus on the semi-final. We will wait and see who makes it semi-final. If it's Japan or Poland, we will train to exploit their weakness," Mandeep said.
Since India have directly made it to the semi-finals, they now have to wait for three days to play their next match. Talking about the time-gap, Reid insisted motivation of the players will not flinch and the team will look make most of the free days.
"It's actually good for me, I think it's actually important for me to work on stuff. We will be having a fairly good session tomorrow. I don't think motivation will be a problem in the semi-final, the boys will be up for it and I guarantee you that. From the point of view of the three-day break, it is what it is. We have to utilise it in the best way. Stay sharp, train well but not too much in the last two days," Reid said.
Reid also said he will use the days to scout Indian team's opponents in the semi-final.
Final Pool standings
India " 3 wins with 9 points " qualifies for the semi-final.
Russia " 2 wins and 1 defeat " qualifies to play crossover match.
Poland " 1 win and 2 defeats " qualifies to play crossover match.
Uzbekistan " 3 defeats in 3 matches " set to play playoff match for the 7th-8th spot.
Unites States " 2 wins and a draw " qualifies for the semi-final after higher goal difference. Japan " 2 wins and a draw " qualifies to play crossover match.
South Africa " 1 win and two defeats " qualifies to play crossover match.
Mexico " 3 defeats in 3 matches " set to play playoff match for the 7th-8th spot.
7-8th spot match (12 June)
Uzbekistan vs Mexico at 8.45 am.
Crossover fixtures (12 June)
Japan vs Poland at 5 pm.
Russia vs South Africa at 7.15 pm.
Semi-Finals (13 June)
USA vs Russia or South Africa at 5 pm.
India vs Japan or Poland at 7 pm.