In­dia look to hit top gear in bid to seal top spot

The New Indian Express - - CALL OF KALINGA - SWA­ROOP SWAMINATHAN @ Bhubaneswar

IT’S been an in­ter­est­ing lit­tle phase for the hosts since they last played a game, a thrilling 2-2 draw against Bel­gium on Sun­day. In the en­su­ing five days, all but one mem­ber of the 18-man squad took a break as they headed to a re­treat near Puri, a 90-minute drive from the city. PR Sree­jesh had to miss the trip as he had to go back to Er­naku­lam to tend to his ail­ing fa­ther.

They have had a cou­ple of train­ing ses­sions to get back into the groove but a bug has laid low at least a few play­ers. Af­ter skip­per Man­preet Singh missed a ses­sion on Thurs­day thanks to a sore throat, mid­field main­stay Kotha­jit Singh is strug­gling with a fever. The po­ten­tial ab­sence of a cou­ple of play­ers may make the fix­ture against Canada on Satur­day a trick­ier propo­si­tion.

That’s be­fore you con­sider the fact that the Red Cari­bou, who have one point from two games, have trou­bled In­dia in the re­cent past. At the Rio Olympics, they twice came back to draw 2-2 be­fore they went one bet­ter at the World League Semi-Fi­nals last year. In­dia did beat them 3-0 in the group stage but Scott Tup­per’s men ex­acted re­venge by win­ning 3-2 in the fifth-sixth place match later.

Those suc­cesses against In­dia have been achieved be­cause of Canada’s struc­tural in­tegrity in de­fence and discipline in the at­tack. They don’t com­mit men for­ward at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity, have no qualms about not hav­ing pos­ses­sion. Their no-non­sense ap­proach is de­signed to yield max­i­mum re­turns against a team not giv­ing their 100 per cent.

Coach Paul Bundy hinted at it as one of the fac­tors be­hind their de­cent re­cent re­turns against the hosts. “I think it’s go­ing to be a highly com­pet­i­tive en­counter to­mor­row (Satur­day),” he said. “The last three matches be­tween the two na­tions have been split equally (one win, one draw, and one loss). We have a good work ethic... gritty in our de­fence and stick to our game plan.”

Their game plan has been well-doc­u­mented — a low block with mid­field­ers and wingers act­ing as a sec­ond de­fen­sive screen when they don’t have the ball. When ex­e­cuted to per­fec­tion, it has the abil­ity to choke the op­po­si­tion in the at­tack­ing third.

This is where the likes of Akashdeep Singh and Dil­preet Singh, for­wards who are adept at play­ing the cre­ative hook, will hope to make a dif­fer­ence. The 24-year-old Akashdeep will look to reprise his role as a with­drawn for­ward af­ter play­ing in a more tra­di­tional po­si­tion against the Red Li­ons. His move­ment and pe­riph­eral vi­sion — an as­set against de­fen­sive sides — might just be the key to pulling de­fend­ers away to cre­ate space for the likes of Man­deep Singh to come into the equa­tion.

There could also be other sur­prises in store, es­pe­cially if Bel­gium do not get the de­sired re­sult against South Africa. “We have spo­ken about this (to shake-up a bit) in the meeting room the last few days,” coach Haren­dra Singh said. “We will try and play a dif­fer­ent for­ma­tion and try a cou­ple of vari­a­tions de­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion.”

It will also be in­ter­est­ing to see how long the group takes to get their rhythm go­ing af­ter an in­or­di­nately long gap. Man­preet, though, did not think it would be an is­sue. “We worked on our fit­ness (dur­ing the five­day gap) so that it doesn’t go down. There was time to study the other team, so we did that.”

If they have prop­erly done their home­work, what tran­spired at Rio and in Lon­don are un­likely to be seen again.

| BISWANATH SWAIN

A few play­ers in­clud­ing cap­tain Man­preet Singh (L) & mid­field main­stay Kotha­jit Singh fell sick re­cently. The lat­ter is yet to re­cover fully

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