Their shoulders are burdened with weight of expectations but it won’t be easy for India to end a 43-year long wait when they take on mighty Netherlands in the quarterfinal of the men’s hockey World Cup, here Thursday.
Boasting a rich hockey legacy, India last played in the semi-final of the World Cup way back in 1975 when they went on to lift their maiden title.
Of late, the game has witnessed an upward trend in the country but the history does not favour the hosts against the mighty Dutchmen, whom the Indians have never beaten in the World Cup.
In the six earlier meetings at the quadrennial event, Netherlands defeated India five times while one ended in a draw.
And if Manpreet Singh and his men get past the Dutch on Thursday, they will not only break a jinx but also rewrite history and ink their names in the one of the golden chapters of the Indian hockey.
Going by present form and rankings, there is hardly anything to differentiate between the two sides.
While Netherlands are placed fourth in the current world rankings, India are a rung below in the fifth position.
The last time India and Netherlands faced each in the Champions Trophy earlier this, the match had ended in a 1-1 draw.
The over-all head-to-head record belongs to Netherlands. In the 105 games played between the two sides so far, India have won 33, lost 48 while the rest ended in draws.
However, the two sides have shared the spoils since 2013. India and Netherlands have faced each other nine times since 2013, winning four apiece while one game finished in a draw.
And for India captain Manpreet Singh past results hold significance.
“The past results matter a lot because Netherlands have a better result against us. But, we have played well against them recently. We have also beaten them, drew against them at the Champions Trophy. Indian hockey has improved a lot. The match will be tough and whichever team plays better will win, Manpreet said.
The India-Netherlands duel is expected to be a fast-paced, attacking encounter with both the teams heavily relying on their goal scoring abilities to come out winners.
Both India and Netherlands have scored heavily in the poll stages. While India have scored 12 goals and conceded three, the Dutch have pumped in 18 goals and conceded five.
In the likes of captain Billy Bakker, Seve van Ass, Jeroen Hertzberger, Mirco Pruijser, Robbert Kemperman, Thiery Brinkman, the Dutch have got plenty of experience in the midfield and its strike force. It will be a real test for the Indian defence on Thursday.
The Indians too would be relying on their strikers Mandeep Singh, Simranjeet Singh, Lalit Upadhyay and Akashdeep Singh to continue their good work.
With the Kalinga Stadium expected to be packed to its full capacity, there will also be tremendous pressure on the Indian team and the Dutch will be more than happy to exploit any mistake.
“This will be not be the first time. We have played in front of big crows in pool games and in the past as well. We are used to playing in front of big crowds, Netherlands coach Max Caldas said.
“We always try to play in our own pace, whether it is fast or slow. We like to dictate. We are not concerned about India because we can’t influence what India will do.”
Netherlands skipper Bakker added: “The Indian team also has lot of pressure. They need to perform in front of their home crowd. So I feel the pressure is more on the Indian team than us.”
Meanwhile in the first quarterfinal, Germany will take on Belgium.