India's rampaging form would be up against a stiff challenge when they take on world No.4 the Netherlands in their final Pool B match of the Hockey World League Semi-Final, in London today.
India, ranked sixth in the world, are presently atop in Pool B with three wins from as many games, while Netherlands are placed second with two wins from two games. But going by performance so far in the tournament, India hold an edge over Netherlands as they have so far recorded convincing wins in the tournament. India defeated Scotland 4-1, Canada 3-0 before demolishing arch-rivals Pakistan 7-1 in their first three games. India captain Manpreet Singh feels the team is improving rapidly in penalty corner conversion.
"It was a very good win for us not because it was against Pakistan but because we did well in the areas that had concerned us when we played the 3 Nations Invitational Tournament in Germany before coming to London," stated Manpreet. "In our previous tournaments though our statistics in terms of ball possession was very good, and even the number of circle penetrations was encouraging, we were missing goal scoring chances.
"But now we have overcome that setback with high scoring match against Pakistan. We just want to keep up this momentum," he emphasised. Netherlands, on the other hand, beat Pakistan 4-0 before getting the better of Scotland 3-0 in their first two games. "I am quite pleased with the team's performance so far but our job is not finished yet. We have to stay upbeat, continue to be aggressive and execute our plans to 100 per cent in all the areas to excel against The Netherlands who also have had a good start to the tournament," said coach Roelant Oltmans.
On form, India are expected to give Netherlands a run for their money tomorrow, provided they can keep their composure on the turf. With their place already secured in the quarterfinals, India would be hoping to keep up the good work and keep a clean slate going into the business end of the tournament. Barring a few lapses early in their games, the Indians have been clinical so far in the tournament, controlling the proceedings in each and every match.
The performance of India's forward-line has been outstanding with the likes of Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Talwinder Singh showcasing their brilliance with the stick by scoring some fantastic goals. The mid-field, led by a talismanic Sardar Singh, and also featuring the likes of skipper Manpreet Singh, has been providing ample support to the strikers. In the absence of key players like Rupinderpal Singh, India's young backline, led by Harmanpreet Singh, has displayed gritty performances and conceded just two goals.
India's reserve goalkeepers -- Vikas Dahiya and Akash Chikta -- too have been brilliant under the bar in the absence of regular skipper and one of the best custodians of the world, PR Sreejesh. India previously played The Netherlands at the Rio Olympics where they narrowly lost to the Dutch 1-2. But in 2015, India had beaten The Netherlands 3-2 in the shootout after a 5-5 draw in the Hockey World League Final at Raipur.
India had also won their match 3-2 in the 2014 Champions Trophy against the Dutch.
"We don't want to think about past records. Both the teams are new compared to 2015 and 2016 with some new additions in the squad. So we cannot compare the results from the past," Oltmans said. "For now, we only want to focus on our match tomorrow, continue with the good momentum and stick to our plans. We have to start well and finish well. That will be our focus,he added.
The Netherlands, who are taking on Canada later in the day, will nonetheless start favourites. The result of the match will decide the leader of Pool B. Going by the performances so far, it would be hard to predict the winner today as there is hardly anything to separate the two sides. The winner of today's match will play the fourth placed team in the quarterfinals.