India seeks big win against Wales to qualify directly for Hockey World Cup quarter-finals

An unbeaten India will seek to address their penalty-corner woes to post a big win against bottom-placed debutants Wales in their final pool match and qualify directly for the quarter-finals of the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup here on Thursday.

India and England are on four points each after two matches with the latter ahead on goal difference — plus five as against the hosts’ plus two. India, though, will have the advantage of knowing what to do before their match as they play after England’s game against Spain on Thursday.

If England lose or draw against Spain, there will be no headache for India as they just need to beat Wales by any margin to top Pool D — considered the group of death — and qualify directly for the quarter-finals.

If England beat Spain, then India will need to defeat Wales by at least five goals. The number of goals India need to score will keep on increasing depending on England’s victory margin.

If two teams are on equal points and have the same number of wins, the rankings in the pool stage are decided on the basis of goal difference.

In any case, India will not be knocked out of the tournament as they will finish second if they beat Wales — a task they are expected to accomplish. If India finish second in Pool D, they will play the third-place team in Pool C, which could be either New Zealand or Malaysia in the ‘crossover’ round.

India had beaten Spain 2-0 before drawing England 0-0, both matches played at the new Birsa Munda Stadium in Rourkela. They are going to play at the Kalinga Stadium for the first time in this World Cup.

The winning team in each of the four pools qualifies directly for the quarter-finals. The second and third-placed finishers in each pool will feature in crossover matches. A second-place finisher of a pool will play a third-place side of another pool and the winning team will face a pool topper in the quarter-finals.

If India top Pool D and qualify directly for the quarter-finals, they will play one match less and that may keep them fresh for the last-eight stage.”If we top our pool, we will play one match less and that will be good for us. We will try to play our best and play our normal game and execute our plans,” said midfielder Manpreet Singh, who had led India to a historic bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

The main concern for India is their rate of penalty-corner conversion. They have got nine penalty corners so far but have not scored even once from them directly, though Amit Rohidas found the target against Spain after captain Harmanpreet Singh’s drag-flick rebounded off an opponent’s stick.

Drag-flicker Harmanpreet has been the country’s top scorer in almost all tournaments in recent times, including the historic bronze-winning campaign in the Tokyo Olympics, but he has been struggling to find the target in this showpiece event.It will be easier for India to win by a big margin if Harmanpreet starts firing as his side is expected to get penalty corners in plenty against Wales.

“I hope to start scoring goals from penalty corners in the next match,” Harmanpreet had said after the England match.India will also need to convert field chances as they missed several scoring opportunities against England.

“Missed opportunities and we next (against Wales) have to try and do better inside the opposition circle,” head coach Graham Reid said.

India were also dealt a blow after midfielder Hardik Singh injured his hamstring towards the end of the England match. He will be an unlikely starter in Thursday’s match against Wales, though he is expected to recover in time for the quarter-final or the crossover stage.

No doubt, Hardik will be missed but his absence is unlikely to affect India’s chances against Wales, ranked 14th in the world as against the hosts’ fifth as per the latest rankings. The likes of Vivek Sagar Prasad can fill in for Hardik.

Wales, on the other hand, will be playing for pride as they have virtually no chance of progressing to the next stage following two heavy losses against England (0-5) and Spain (1-5).Even if they beat India, which is highly unlikely, and Spain defeat England, Wales might not make it to the crossovers as they have a goal difference of minus nine.

The Squads (From): India: Abhishek, Surender Kumar, Manpreet Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh, Mandeep Singh, Harmanpreet Singh (captain), Lalit Upadhyay, Krishan Pathak, Nilam Sanjeep Xess, PR Sreejesh, Nilakanta Sharma, Shamsher Singh, Varun Kumar, Akashdeep Singh, Amit Rohidas (vice-captain), Vivek Sagar Prasad, Sukhjeet Singh.

Wales: Rupert Shipperley (captain), Toby Reynolds-Cotterill, Rhys Payne, Gareth Furlong, Daniel Kyriakides, Hywel Jones, Ioan Wall, Steve Kelly, Lewis Prosser, Dale Hutchinson, Jacob Draper, Gareth Griffiths, Rhys Bradshaw, Fred Newbold, Ben Francis, Luke Hawker, James Carson, Jack Pritchard.

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