India will play Germany for bronze at the World League Final in Bhubaneswar on Sunday evening. It's a match-up neither side is used to at FIH events in recent years, but for contrasting reasons.
India rarely make it to podium contention, though if they win Sunday's game, it will be a third FIH medal in senior men's hockey after the 2015 World League Final bronze in Raipur and the Champions Trophy silver last year in London.
Germany, on the other hand, are more used to contesting and winning finals, including the last event played at the Kalinga Stadium, the Champions Trophy of 2014.
The team of the walking wounded
Germany have less than 24 hours to recover from a semi-final where they lost 3-0 to Australia, but with just 13 able men. Midfielder Timur Oruz has picked up an injury, while four other key players -- strikers Christopher Ruhr and Marco Miltkau, and defenders Julius Meyer and captain Martin Haner -- all reported ill on Saturday morning. That left substitute goalkeeper Mark Appel and midfielder Dan Nguyen as the only players available to switch, and striker Mats Grambusch captained the side through illness himself.
"We don't really know what happened, from last night to this morning, four of us got ill. In the end, we just couldn't deal with the Australians. We fought hard but couldn't do it," said Grambusch, one of the players from the Champions Trophy winning team from three years ago.
"Right now I am frustrated and don't know -- my legs are dead. Tomorrow we have to come back and play against India in India. It's always a big one and always special. We will come back and hopefully some of the ill guys will come back tomorrow."
India well rested, but shaky
Germany beat India 2-0 in the pool stages, playing a compact defensive game. India also had their problems on Friday evening against Argentina, though a lot of that had to do with the conditions.
"The whole game plan and speed of the game was really low compared to what we had in mind. We were very confident of beating this team. But sometimes things are not in control," midfielder SK Uthappa had said after losing the semi-final, where Argentina scored off the only PC they got. "We have to let this defeat sink in first, and we are all mature enough. Bronze medal is not a small game as well. We have a day to rest."
In that rest day, the Indian strikeforce of Mandeep Singh, Sunil, Akashdeep Singh and Lalit Upadhyay would have likely seen footage of the previous games and seen how rival teams have man-marked India with great effect.
The best way to work around that would be to convert circle entries into PCs, especially with Rupinder Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh both coming into some sort of form in the last two games against Belgium and Argentina.
Some of the Indian defensive mistakes have cost them in the tournament already, most notably during the 3-2 defeat to England where all English goals came from open play and because of poor marking. India also failed to close out the quarter-final despite leading 2-0 at one stage. Winning the bronze medal inside 60 minutes would be good validation for a team that is only playing the World League Final by virtue of being hosts, and will host the World Cup next November at this same venue.
The weather and the rest
The forecast for Sunday looks good at present, suggesting a cloudy evening but without rain. If the pitch conditions stay normal, Germany would need as much of their complement of players as possible to overcome the disadvantage a day's lesser rest.
Indian striker SV Sunil had spoken on Friday of how tiring the pitch conditions had been, with the rain pelting down at an angle and spitting into the faces of players on both sides.
"The ball was not travelling at all, and it would come to a stop when rolling over. It was very difficult," he said. India have had an extra day's rest, and while Germany played on a much better service, the fact that they had only one outfield player to switch would leave the other players exhausted.
Yet, Grambusch will be willing himself for one final effort. "I came here in 2013 for (the) junior World Cup and we won, came back for the Champions Trophy in 2014 here in Bhubaneswar and we won as well. This time we are not going to win, but it's a pleasure to play in front of this crowd. I can't wait to come back for the World Cup."