India vs Belgium: A virtual pre-quarter in the offing

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Win would make it easy for India to top the group while Belgium would be raring to prove credentials

The past for coach Harendra Singh holds little value in terms of its impact on the present, unless it gives lessons that the team could build on. Ahead of the clash against Belgium in what he terms as the pre-quarterfinals for all practical purposes for India here at the World Cup, he continues to hold his view regardless of results.

With a three-day break, the sides have had enough time to recover, reassess their performances and prepare for the game that might well decide the Pool C topper.

A win would make it a lot easier for the host, specially with the superior goal difference it enjoys at the moment. But Belgium, disappointed with the outing against Canada, would be raring to prove its credentials.

“It does not help if we keep thinking of negative things. Even in games we lost, there are always things that the team did well and those are the moments I look at and try to build on. It remains true even for matches we have won,” Harendra insisted.

For Belgium coach Shane McLeod, the biggest advantage for his team is continuity. The core of the side has been together for almost a decade now and grown together.

“They can kind of smell where each other is and they have that sense of doing things quicker than other teams which is an advantage,” he said, an area where India cannot compete given the number of personnel changes.

Harendra has other concerns as well. Against South Africa, India’s attacking style saw gaps in the defence that the Africans were unable to exploit but Belgium would pounce on. The missed chances would not be as plentiful either.

“Belgium has good circle penetration. They are good with vertical passes, they don’t go back or play parallel and we have to be cautious of that.

“But we won’t compromise with our trademark attacking hockey though we have to take care of the midfield,” he explained.

McLeod’s concerns

McLeod has his concerns as well. “The guys have played a lot of matches but not together. What we are doing is getting them ready to play as one team and that takes some time. The game against India will demand us to take that extra couple of steps or we won’t be competitive,” he admitted.

The Europeans have a 5-3 win record since Rio Olympics (two draws) but those numbers do not take into account the fact that India has won both its games at this venue.

India would be looking to keep it that way on Sunday.

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