India will need to step up their performance by a couple of notches as they seek to reignite their campaign when they meet Canada in their third match of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament here on Sunday.
India, who are fielding a team without several of their top stars, eked out a scratchy 2-1 win over minnows Japan in the opening match of their campaign before being thrashed 1-5 by strong title contenders Australia.
The Indians struggled with their finishing in both the matches. The conversion rate from penalty corners — traditionally a weak point for Indian teams — continues to be a problem. The fact that Rupinder Pal Singh is the only experienced drag-flicker in the squad could be one of the reasons.
The defence lacks experience with the likes of youngsters Jasjit Singh Kular, Surender Singh, and Harmanpreet Singh yet to find their feet at the international level. The lack of co-ordination and inexperience cost India dearly against Australia as the reigning world champions punched gaping holes in the defence time and again.
But the men in blue will be boosted by the presence of Manpreet Singh who has rejoined the squad after missing the earlier matches. The talented midfielder, who returned to India for his father’s funeral, trained with the team on Saturday. In Manpreet’s absence, the midfield lacked cohesion and struggled to counter the rampaging Australians.
Marshalled by skipper Sardar Singh, the midfielder is probably India’s strongest point and he will have to play a crucial role if the former champions are to perform creditably in this tournament.
Wingers S.V. Sunil and Danish Mujtaba have the speed and experience to trouble almost any defence and with Sardar pulling the strings in the centre of midfield, strikers Ramandeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah should have plenty of opportunities to score.
The Indians’ poor form is reflected in their position on the points table. They are fifth in the seven-team table with three points from two matches. But they could rise to the top spot if they beat Canada on Sunday and Pakistan manage to earn a draw against Australia. If either Australia or Pakistan manages to win, the Indians will be at the second position.
But Canada, generally regarded as minnows in world hockey, will be no pushovers. They started the tournament with a 1-3 loss to Pakistan. But they staged a strong comeback by holding defending champions New Zealand to a 1-1 draw in their second match before overtaking India on the points table with a 3-1 win over Japan on Saturday.
They are sitting pretty at the second spot with four points from three matches, the same as hosts Malaysia who take the top spot by virtue of a superior goal difference.
The Canadians play counter-attacking hockey and rely on a strong defence with tight man-to-man marking. They are quite fast on the counter and could pose a tough challenge for the inexperienced Indian defence.
However, the hot and humid conditions should be an advantage for the Indians and the Canadian players are not too familiar with such conditions.