Manpreet Singh: We want to change history
Skipper Manpreet Singh insists his boys are in prime position to beat the Netherlands in QF today to claim India's best home World Cup finish
World No. 5 India will take on World No. 4 the Netherlands in the quarter-finals at the Kalinga Stadium today with one eye on history. A win for Manpreet Singh & Co will ensure their best World Cup finish in 43 years since Ajit Pal Singh's men won gold at the 1975 edition in Malaysia. A Top Four spot here will better India's best home finish - fifth place at the 1982 edition in Mumbai.
But the Netherlands is a huge mountain that India coach Harendra Singh knows too well. When informed that India have never beaten the Netherlands at a World Cup in six previous meetings at the quadrennial event [the Netherlands has won five and one ended in a draw], he shot back: "History is only good to read, not to understand. I don't believe in reading too much into history."
Across the last half a decade, however, it's been even-stevens as far as Indo-Dutch hockey is concerned. In nine meetings since 2013, both teams have won four each, with one draw.
Dutch-born coach Siegfried Aikman, who mastered Japan's stunning Asian Games gold medal win, felt the Netherlands hold the edge but only slightly. "The Netherlands is a young team and still a lot more experienced than this Indian team who are fit and fast. In such big matches, sometimes that can be the difference," he told mid-day yesterday.
Harendra, however, will settle for nothing less than a win. "We want what 1.3 billion Indians want - a win. The Indian team are mentally and physically ready. We have done our homework on the Dutch team's aggression and physical play. Whatever challenge they throw at us, we will not just accept but also solve it," he said at yesterday's pre-match press conference.
Skipper Manpreet said his team are ready to enter history books. "This team have improved a lot under Harry sir since two years ago [when India lost in the quarter-final at the Rio Olympics to Belgium]. We want to change history. The focus is on taking all our chances - we won't even leave out the 50-50 chances," he said.
The Netherlands' top scorer of the tournament with three field goals, Jeroen Hertzberger, felt his team won't panic even if India scored first. "India play fast and attacking hockey, but so do we. We have the experience to fight back any time in the match," he said. Aikman summed up the mood perfectly. "I'm Dutch, so I hope Holland win, but as a hockey lover, I'd be happy to see India win."
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