A first-time entry into the final at stake, India’s hockey team will hope they can rise to the challenge of taking on Australia in their last league outing of the 36th Hero Champions Trophy here on Thursday.
India were beaten by four goals in their last two encounters against Australia in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, two months ago, but are eager to produce a better show against the reigning world champions, who have already secured their place in the title match, at the Lee Valley Hockey Centre.
Australia have fielded a strong side here, but are in a dilemma over penalty corner shooter Chris Ciriello’s fitness.
“The match against Australia will be tough. We have to produce our best performance to put up a good contest,” said India coach Roelant Oltmans.
“A medal at the Champions Trophy was the target we set ourselves when we set off for London. I am happy that our game has improved with every match,” said Oltmans.
Australia lead the round-robin league standings with 10 points from four outings, followed by India on seven from four.
A victory over Australia on the morrow will put India in the final of the six-nation event, something they have not achieved so far, but even a draw could boost their prospects of making the title encounter.
To be able to match Australia, India’s defenders will need to polish up their act and the strikers improve their finishing. “We’ll have to put up a much better exhibition of hockey,” said Oltmans.
Irrespective of making the final, Australia coach Graham Reid is not going to take the foot off the pedal. “The Indians seem to be playing their best hockey for a while,” he said.
Great Britain and Belgium are the other teams who can win their last league matches to edge out India from the final race. Britain are currently on five points and Belgium on four. If Australia win, hosts Britain will need a win over Belgium to overtake India on points.