Slow-starters India look to pick up the pace in quarterfinals

Hockey India

India would have felt confident before their final pool match at the Hockey World League Final against Germany as they had never lost to them in three previous meetings in the tournament's history.

A capacity crowd in Bhubaneswar was firmly behind them, too, with plenty of flags, posters and noise greeting both teams on a misty December evening.

All of the anticipation came to nought though, as Germany registered a 2-0 win over India, who repeated their mistakes from their previous match against England.

Early jitters cost India dearly again

For the second game in a row, India were guilty of a sluggish start. In trying to force the pace, they gave the ball away far too easily in the early stages. Germany took advantage of the inexperienced Varun Kumar on India's left side of defence, as Dan Nguyen, Johannes Grosse and Niklas Bruns worked together to keep stretching the Indian backline.

On the rare occasion that the ball fell to India, passes from captain Manpreet Singh and his teammates in midfield were either poorly weighted or released without ample thought. Gurjant Singh, meant to operate as an out-and-out striker, was often around the centre-line, forcing SV Sunil and Mandeep Singh to drop wider, but the Germans defended in good numbers and dispossessed them with ease.

Germany find a way past India's zonal marking

Germany came out with purpose in the second quarter and turned the match in their favour within the first four minutes, first with captain Martin Haner's delayed drag-flick to deceive Akash Chikte in goal, and then Mats Grambusch shooting powerfully and accurately from just inside the Indian circle to put his team two-up.

German coach Stefan Kermas put his team's success down to how well they defended the Indian zonal marking, balancing it with the right speed. "Possession without scoring doesn't count in hockey, and the key is to find as much patience as one can to put together the perfect third and fourth pass (in a move)," he said. "I am a big fan of their strikers Akashdeep Singh and Mandeep Singh, and also the way that Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh come up to attack, but today they couldn't build up on that because of a really good team dynamic from us."

India upped the ante in the third and fourth quarters, with Manpreet joined by Harmanpreet and Rupinder from time to time in pushing up. Birendra Lakra, who played in a wider defensive position in the first half, dropped to sweeper after the second German goal, and that helped keep the visitors at bay.

Suraj Karkera, stepping in for Chikte at the change of ends, pulled off good saves the few times Germany had sight of goal, while India created three penalty-corners of their own, including two in the closing stages. The Indian battery of Harmanpreet and Rupinder found goalkeeper Tobias Walter a tough nut to crack though.

India eye improved display in quarterfinals

It is worth noting that India had also finished with similar returns - one draw from three pool matches - in the last World League Final, before beating Great Britain in the quarterfinals. There's a good chance they will face Belgium in the last eight this year. However, coach Sjoerd Marijne said that while he respected Belgium as opposition, his job was to look at his own team.

"If you want to win big tournaments and move up the world rankings, you have to beat the best teams in the world. Everybody can win against everyone else. The players have belief and that's what counts. It [the quarter-final] is a match of everything or nothing. A high-quality opposition should bring out the best from us."