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Chance for India to seal World Cup qualification

Goalkeeper Savita Punia's ability to defend off penalty corners has helped India keep down the number of goals conceded at the tournament in Johannesburg. Hockey India

Indian women face second-ranked England hoping to win their World League Semi-Final quarterfinal clash in Johannesburg on Tuesday. A win would confirm India's slot at the World Cup in England next year and also give them a maiden entry into the World League Final in New Zealand towards the end of the year.

A solid defence, and in particular the role of goalkeeper Savita Punia, will be critical if 12th-ranked India have to put it across England - 10 of whose squad were part of Great Britain's gold-winning team at the 2016 Olympics, with many featuring in the 3-0 win over the Indians in the same tournament.

India have struggled with attack through the World League Semi-Final, having scored just two goals in their four matches. Their strength has been in defence -- conceding seven goals, but all to higher-ranked opponents USA (sixth) and Argentina (three). Savita has led the backline admirably, and her influence on the relatively inexperienced second goalkeeper Rajani Etimarpu was evident when the latter replaced her with India 3-0 down at half-time against the Argentines on Sunday and didn't concede a goal in the last two quarters.

Savita's ability to defend off penalty corners has been important in keeping the number of goals by the opposition down. India have conceded 19 PCs in four games, but USA remain the only team to have converted one into a goal, while Argentina won a penalty stroke off one of their efforts, which was successfully converted.

Set-pieces are an area of the game the English pride themselves on, and India would win half the battle if they can keep the mistakes in defence down to a minimum on Tuesday.

India can seek inspiration from the number of upsets that lower-ranked teams have already pulled off in the pool stages of the tournament -- Chile (20) beat South Africa (13) 1-0, while the latter themselves beat USA (6) 3-2 in a must-win match to qualify for the quarterfinals ahead of the South Americans. But the biggest upset of the first week was England losing 1-0 to Japan, the 11th-ranked team India have had a good record against in recent years. The key to the Japanese win was scoring an early goal and then putting in a dogged defensive performance to keep England at bay.

The Indian strategy could be similar but their forwards have had a poor outing in South Africa, with Lilima Minz and Preeti Dubey the only ones to have converted any of their chances. They are yet to score from a PC themselves, and would be eager to set that statistic right as well.

If the scores are level after four quarters, the winner would be decided via shootout, and that could bring about a fascinating duel between Savita and Olympic gold medallist Maddie Hinch, also the reigning FIH goalkeeper of the year in women's hockey.

Even if India lose, World Cup qualification will be up for grabs in their next classification match since a sixth-placed finish in Johannesburg would be good enough for their first appearance at the women's World Cup since 2010.