India's experienced forwardline comprising SV Sunil, Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Gurvinder Singh Chandi have their task cut out in today's crucial first semi-final against South Korea in Incheon.
India's SV Sunil (left) dribbles past an Oman player in Incheon recently. Pic/AFP
If Sardar Singh & Co are to keep alive their dream of an Asian Games gold medal after 16 long years, it is the forwardline which has to deliver the goods, feel former India players.
Former India skipper Dhanraj Pillay said the Koreans will bank on home advantage. "Koreans will thrive on the noise from their home fans and that will put pressure on India's forwards who are already a fumbling lot," said Pillay.
'Just not clicking'
Former India striker Prabhjot Singh pointed out where the strikers are erring. "The forwardline is just not clicking. There are very visible errors in receiving the ball (by the forwards) who are more often than not caught out in a crowded situation.
In modern hockey, your positioning as a forward has to be perfect, so you can receive the ball correctly and get into a scoring position," said Prabhjot.
Former India goalkeeper Devesh Chouhan warned that penalty corners will be hard to come by. "We have to score field goals and that is the duty of the forwardline.
It won't be easy to earn penalty corners against the Koreans because they have a very strong defence. Even if we do get penalty corners, the pressure will be on drag-flicker V Raghunath in the absence of Rupinderpal Singh (second dragflicker) who is injured."
Veteran striker Sameer Dad felt the forwards will have to do away with their close markers first, if they wish to have any chance to score. "The Koreans play it tight at the back which tends to cramp up the opposition forwardline. Our boys will do well to make some room for themselves upfront," he said.
Hockey India selection committee member and former India captain Arjun Halappa summed up the mood well.
"This is the best bunch of hockey players in the country and I'm sure they can deliver against Korea. Two victories (semi-final & final) hereon and we would have booked our place for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
That will give us (administrators) and the players almost two years to work with the focus of winning an Olympic medal in hockey again."
Indian hockey team last won an Asian Games gold this year
The Indian women's hockey team failed to enter the 17th Asian Games final, going down 1-3 to hosts South Korea in a semi-final yesterday. India face Japan in the bronze medal match on Wednesday.