The highest ranking Asian side at the World Cup has had a point to prove throughout the tournament. India, ranked 5th in the world, were placed in Pool C alongside Belgium, Canada and South Africa. With a young and vibrant squad and having come from an excellent run at the 5th edition of the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat, where they were declared Joint Champions, India has taken the World Cup opportunity with both hands.
Performing in front of the home crowd is never an easy task for any team, and keeping that in mind, India’s tenacity in the World Cup until now has been commendable. They walked into the pool matches with many expectations, and some would argue that they didn’t that bad a job at meeting them either.
In their first Pool Match against South Africa, India outplayed the African nation and beat them 5 goals to nil to put a show on the opening day of the World Cup with a brace from young prospect #10 Simranjeet Singh and one goal each from Mandeep, Akashdeep and Lalit Upadhyay. This perfectly kick-started both their own and the World Cup campaign.
Their second match against Belgium was what many would regard as their toughest match of the Pool C. India trying to 1 up the Silver medalists of the Rio 2016 Olympics was not going to be an easy task. With India bouncing back from a 1 goal deficit to break into the lead, they were denied by Simon Gougnard in the 56th minute to clinch 3 points as the game resulted in a draw. Simranjeet yet again found himself on the scoresheet; India’s 1st goal was scored by Harmanpreet Singh via Penalty Stroke in the 39th minute.
India’s never-give-up attitude and a young, exciting squad was building great momentum for the tournament. They then went on to face North American wizards Canada, a game whose result would decide India’s fate on their direct Quarter-Final qualification. With a good fight put up by Canada to keep India quiet for the most parts of the First Half, the game got much more interesting after the scoreline was leveled by Canada in the 39th minute. India, building and thriving on the World Cup momentum displayed a commanding 2nd half performance as they scored 4 sublime goals in the space of 11 minutes, with a brace from Lalit Upadhyay and one each from C Kangujam and Amit Rohidas. Harmanpreet Singh scored the only goal in the First Half in the 12th minute. This was a match much cheered and appreciated by the Bhubaneswar crowd at the Kalinga Stadium as it meant India had directly qualified for the Quarter Finals.
India are through to the Quarter Finals, but their job at the World Cup is far from over. They now face a task to face and conquer the best hockey sides in the world, as they face the Netherlands on the 13th of December, to make inroads to redo what was done in the 1975 Kuala Lumpur World Cup more than 4 decades ago. With a squad with an average age of less than 24 years, India have a team for the future. Everyone waits to see whether the future can be lived in the present with World Cup glory a second time around.