Zero margin of error in a quarterfinal
According to coach Harendra Singh, the national team’s performance in its first game at the World Cup will give an indicator of its chances in Bhubaneswar — for everyone, the players, the fans, the media. But for him, the biggest match will be in the quarterfinals. “That game decides whether you get a medal or bow out of the race. There is zero margin of error in a quarterfinal. If we go past that, India wouldn’t look back,” said Singh. In an interview ahead of the World Cup, he also spoke about how Australia’s domination has changed the game, player education and how the Hockey India League has improved the players’ confidence.
The Asian Champions Trophy was the final competitive outing for the national team before the World Cup. What lessons have the team and staff learnt?
I wouldn’t say lessons because a lot of things we knew. What we worked on was rectifying what went wrong at Asian Games. Most important was possession, because unless you keep possession, you cannot score. Also, the opposition has to expend energy to first snatch the ball and then try and build moves; that can lead to errors.
We also worked on passing and receiving options. We always try in training that every player should have a minimum of three options to play a ball and also play in a way that his teammate has three options to play further. Decisionmaking is something we are working on and it is up to the individual to decide which option to execute. It may sometimes go wrong, but that is always a work in progress.
The competition in Oman was almost the same as at the Asian Games and many of the teams will be there at the World Cup. In that sense, how much clarity is there in terms of structure, planning and areas of concern?
Structurewise we are very confident and comfortable because some progress is possible only if you have a good structure — circle entries, shots at goal, penalty corners, etc. And, if those numbers are rising, as we have seen, then clearly there is attacking sharpness.
But we also need to go deeper. I feel in terms of entries, Asia is better than some of the European teams, but we have to convert them into shots at the World Cup. Also, once inside the circle, you have to take quick decisions on whether to shoot or pass. No team will give easy space or chances. It’s a constant battle between striker and defender and we have to force the opponent to make an error, keep fighting the defence and get to the ball first. There needs to be a change of positioning and mentality and we have worked on it. But with the World Cup close, we are having extra classes for them.
How do you see the World Cup in terms of targets for the team, the players and yourself?
See, no team goes to a World Cup to simply participate and India is one of the 16 contenders for the title. What we did during the Junior World Cup and other tournaments
League boost: With HIL, confidence has increased both for national and nonnational players, says Harendra Singh.