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Hockey World Cup: Tough battle awaits India tonight

India have won only one of their last four matches against Belgium who they meet in the opener today

The Hague: India are in danger of choking on excessive nostalgia. We are talking about the Indian hockey team enjoying their first bit of bright sunshine before they take on Belgium tomorrow in their World Cup hockey opener.

Indian captain Sardar Singh. Pic/Getty Images
Indian captain Sardar Singh. Pic/Getty Images 

If you look at the boys, they don't seem the kind who would love browsing hockey history on the web. But staring at stats is a definite pastime. Players are curious about numbers, goals, assists, misses, strikes, possession and the king of them all — head to head records.

Before the teams's India and Belgium's walk onto the football ground turned temporary hockey pitch at the Kyocera Stadium in downtown Hague, the Indian team would be telling themselves they have played Belgium 61 times and won 43.

Belgium have won eight and drawn 10. But good psychologists also hide numbers. In their last four encounters, India have won only one in four matches. And it's not an aberration.

Belgium, at the moment are at the top of its game. They are contenders for the World Cup, having finished as the second best side at the European Championships. And they would look to start with a win.

Experience is the underlined success formula at World Championships. Indian coach Terry Walsh, the third Australian to coach India after Ric Charlesworth and Michael Nobbs, does admit but points towards skills and mental strength as the substitutes.

Right direction
"Let us not underestimate India," he says. "We haven't had enough time to come together as a team as I joined as coach only a few months back. But I have seen enough skills and talent out there to understand we are headed in the right direction."

Qualifying was important for the Indian team to keep their momentum going in world hockey. But patience and understanding are wearing thin for a nation that was used to headlines of winning in at least hockey.

Walsh will not be overly bothered with feelings at the moment. He has his hands full. And he knows, if he can deliver he would have done something not many have achieved — a sustainable and consistent performance from the Indian team. Leave the chapters of the historic 1975 World Cup alone.

Look at what the team achieved in the 1994 World Cup at Sydney. That fifth place still rates as one of India's best performances in world hockey.

Captain confident
Sardar smiles when told of Belgium's strengths. He doesn't delve into the specifics. "We have trained and yes, the injuries to two players have been a setback. But we will do well."

FIve
India's best position at the World Cup (1994) after their title-clinching effort in 1975

The writer will report for mid-day during the World Cup 

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