76, yes you read that right! Indian men’s hockey team scored 76 goals in the group stage. Therefore, the news doesn’t come as a surprise that the defending champions entered the semi-finals unsurpassed. India has given a befitting response to people who underrated skill levels and rankings of the Indian team.
The browbeating run of the defending champions has deepened the gulf between the rest of the Asian team, including strong contenders like South Korea, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Although the victory has put coach Harendra Singh and his boys on the path for a repeat of India’s 2014 Asian Games campaign, that is a final against Pakistan. However, they have to contend with the tenacious Malaysians in the semis on Thursday.
Scoring a world record of 76 goals in 5 matches, India has completely nailed the pool stage. Never before have more goals been scored by any team in an entire international tournament. Prior to this, the record was in the name of Argentina, with 68 goals at the 2004 Pan-American Games. We can expect India to add more to their record tally.
Fire in The Belly
“I would credit it to the change in mentality and execution of skills, fire in the belly. But most importantly, we are the ones setting the intensity of the game, which keeps the boys in the driving seat for the entire duration of 60 minutes. We are not scoring goals, we are just playing to our strength, which is an attack.”, said an ecstatic Harendra Singh.
India started its campaign by knocking out host Indonesia 17-0 and then registering the biggest win in the Indian history, 26-0, against Hong Kong. Japan who was excited to give India a tough time, fell flat on their face as India thrashed them with 8-0. The South Koreans were expected to give India a fight, but India ended their pool campaign by a 5-3 win. India thrashed Sri Lanka with a 20-0.
The above goals cannot be achieved without an extreme level of fitness, says Harendra Singh.
Nagging of Malaysia
For the last some time Malaysia has proved to be a thorn in the flesh for India by defeating India at the Hockey World League (HWL) and then again at the 2017 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. However, the boys managed to conquer the Southeast Asians twice at the 2018 Azlan Shah Cup, Commonwealth Games, and at the last year’s Asia Cup.
The sport has seen an upswing there, as the former Indian coach Terry Walsh shook hands with the Malaysian Hockey Confederation as Technical Director. Ever since Walsh was brought on board, Malaysia entered the Asia Cup final and has even qualified for the World Cup owing to the HWL win against the Indian team in the quarterfinals.
Malaysia’s past master goalkeeper S Kumar will now showcase his one of the toughest proposition for the in-form Indian strikers and drag-flicker Rupinder Singh, who has joint the league of top goal-scorer with 13 strikes. The Malaysians triumphed four matches in the league stage and only lost to Pool B toppers Pakistan.
However, Harendra made it clear that India doesn’t need to change anything and will continue with its ruthless approach in the semi-final as well.
“We need to crush the opposition in the first half (two quarters). But Malaysia is playing well. They attempt to hurt their opponents on penalty corners, which is what we need to guard against.”, he added.