Free-scoring Netherlands out to spoil India's World Cup party

'India will look to take advantage of Netherlands' arrogance in midfield' (2:02)

Debayan Sen and Jonathan Selvaraj preview India's quarterfinal encounter against Netherlands in the Hockey World Cup. (2:02)

The numbers ahead of Thursday's quarterfinal clash between India and Netherlands at the World Cup in Bhubaneswar don't make for happy reading for an Indian fan.

India have won just four knockout matches in global FIH events in the last 38 years -- two quarterfinals in the World League Final, and two more in the Champions Trophy, including one in Bhubaneswar in 2014.

In 2018 alone, India, ranked fifth, have beaten every top 10 nation at least once, except for Netherlands and Australia, who could well be their next opponent if they are to win on Thursday. In six World Cup meetings, they have lost five matches outright to Netherlands; in the 1973 final, BP Govinda missed a penalty stroke with the scores tied 2-2 in extra-time, and India lost on penalties.

Mercifully, coach Harendra Singh says he keeps history just to read, and not to read into. Netherlands have been the most free-scoring team of the competition, but here's why Thursday's quarterfinal could be a lot closer than it looks on paper.

Fresher legs in the Indian team

India's only meeting with Netherlands this year came in Breda at the Champions Trophy, in a match the hosts needed to win to qualify for the final. While the Netherlands team on Thursday will have 16 of the 18 starters from Breda in June, India have as many as five new players from that squad, who have all pulled their weight in recent months.

Hardik Singh and Kothajit Singh provide spine in defence, Sumit adds pace and variety in the midfield, while midfielder Nilakanta Sharma has come across as the most improved player from the seven junior World Cup winners in 2016.

Akashdeep Singh underlined his importance to India in their opening match against South Africa, dropping deep from time to time to create openings for his forwards.

An open contest that promises goals

Both Netherlands and India play with pace, and like to keep the intensity going for 60 minutes.

But for a team that prides itself in its set-piece conversion, Netherlands have been quite subdued this World Cup, with Mink van der Weerden scoring just two of the team's 18 goals. Against Canada in their crossover, Jeroen Hertzberger also had a penalty stroke saved. The team's first choice runner Sander de Wijn also picked up a knee injury against Canada and has been ruled out of the tournament. This could leave them vulnerable when defending set-pieces, especially if Harmanpreet and Varun Kumar can hit top form for the Indians.

"Tomorrow, you cannot afford to leave even 25 percent of the chances -- when in the [opposition] box, you have only three decisions -- either a shot on target, a goal, or a PC. Rest is immaterial," Harendra said.

Experience could be key

Netherlands are no strangers to holding their own in big games, with more than half of their 18 players holding 100 caps. It is also the same core of the team that won silver at the last World Cup, a silver and a semi-finals finish at the last two Olympics, and successive titles at the last two European Championships.

"All of us have played knockout games in important tournaments, so that experience will definitely help. It stays really exciting to play knockout games," says striker Seve van Ass.

"We have played them a couple of times over the last three years. It's a really strong side, with lots of talent. Pretty young, though, and hopefully we can play on [our] experience tomorrow and that will be decisive."

The 15000-strong crowd in Bhubaneswar might play a role, too.

"This team knows how to taste the crowd and go with it," says Harendra, dismissing opposite number Max Caldas' assertion that the crowd might put added pressure on India. "This Indian team is mentally and physically prepared for any challenge. We know all our opponents -- how they attack, where they can crumble -- and we are prepared to solve any challenge thrown at us.

"Hoga toh wohi joh hum chahenge (It will pan out exactly the way we want)."