Hockey World Cup: Defensive nous, Harmanpreet crucial as India face rampant England

Harmanpreet Singh's penalty corner conversion rate will be in the spotlight against England. World Sport Pics

India negotiated a potentially tricky game against Spain by keeping their opponents at bay, winning the opening match of their World Cup campaign 2-0 after goals from Amit Rohidas and Hardik Singh. India next face England on Sunday, a match that could determine if they qualify directly for the quarterfinals by topping Pool D.


Where England could hurt India

England also won their opening match, beating Wales 5-0 thanks to a brace from Liam Ansell and a goal each from Nicholas Park, Phil Roper and Nicholas Bandurak.

The result was expected, England are world number six, while Wales are down at 14. It was a dominant performance by England, who were certainly better man-to-man, created more chances and made it count by scoring five times. They also earned 12 penalty corners compared to just four from Wales.

England's link-up between their midfielders and forwards stood out, with Zachary Wallace running the show in the attacking area, combining really well with Sam Ward, Ansell and Bandurak. Once they broke into the circle, England crowded the area with their players - best exemplified in their first goal. When Ward picked up the ball on the right side of the circle, England had five other players in the area - with Park eventually coming up with the finish.

Although they missed plenty of penalty corners, Ansell scored one of the best goals of the tournament with a neat variation involving Ward. The last two field goals, scored by Roper and Bandurak were textbook examples of neat stick work and fierce striking. Overall, the 5-0 scoreline might have flattered Wales. If India's outing against Spain was a perfect defensive performance, England produced an almost perfect all-out attacking game.

Where India could hurt England

Both India and England were profligate from penalty corners in their World Cup openers. Harmanpreet had his share of chances - even a penalty stroke - but India's most potent scoring weapon couldn't etch his name on the scoresheet. India also tried a couple of variations from PCs which didn't trouble Spain.

In order to break England's fast start, India should look to score as early as possible. Harmanpreet's opening match performance shouldn't be seen as a concerning lack of form. However, the team could stick to Harmanpreet taking the first few penalty corners, going for goals right away rather than trying for variations. India tried to a variation with Jarmanpreet Singh in their first penalty corner against Spain - with predictable results.

England's attacking approach will leave plenty of room for turnovers and counters. Reid spoke about consistency ahead of the World Cup and this is where Indian midfielders should maintain their performance levels against England after a solid game against Spain. It might not be an obvious midfield battle, like against Spain, but the key once more is winning tackles. Once India win the ball in the midfield or in defence, the onus will be on the likes of Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Lalit Upadhyay and Abhishek to stretch the field, hold on to the ball and make a quick dash or a pass into the circle.

A goalkeeping conundrum for Reid?

Once again, Reid used both PR Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak against Spain. While Sreejesh didn't have much to do, Pathak showed his brilliant form on Friday, pulling off four saves, more than Sreejesh and Spain goalkeeper Adrian Rafi.

When asked about his number one choice for goalkeeper before the World Cup, Reid noted he'll review their performances during the tournament and have conversations with both Sreejesh and Pathak. At the moment, it doesn't look like he will veer away from alternating between his goalkeepers each quarter, with the expectation that it will continue till the end of the group stage.

However, Pathak's form gives him a slight edge over Sreejesh. It's not the most important thing to solve for Reid, but if India do make it to quarterfinals, Reid might be pondering over the decision. Will he stick with his two-goalkeeper policy or choose one over another? It will certainly be an interesting conundrum to watch out for as India progress in the tournament.