This is it.
A match India need to win against New Zealand to stay alive in the World Cup. The host nation entered the tournament with big expectations and hoped for a semifinal run, at least.
Before the World Cup was underway, a spot in the semifinal seemed realistic. Not anymore.
To add to India's woes, Mandeep Singh limped off with an injury after training on Saturday, which further complicates matters for head coach Graham Reid. At the moment, there's no update on the nature of the injury or on his availability for the match on Sunday.
What's not working for India?
To put it simply, a lack of goals. The irony being that it was the one aspect India were confident of prior to the World Cup. Despite losing the five-match series 4-1 against Australia, India's attacking unit impressed, scoring 17 goals.
At the World Cup, India have scored just six goals in three games. Harmanpreet Singh, India's dragflicker-in-chief, is struggling to convert his chances. The forwards, except for Akashdeep Singh and Mandeep have not been of much help for the team. Above all, Hardik Singh has been ruled out of the tournament after suffering a hamstring injury in the match against England.
The other big teams are clicking at the right time and scoring plenty of goals. In three matches, Netherlands scored 22, Australia 20, Belgium 14 and Germany 12. England and Argentina (both 9 each) have also scored more than India.
There's no denying that India were in a tough group. A win over Spain and a draw against England was acceptable, but the performances of the players weren't up to the mark.
For India, it is Akashdeep Singh. Akashdeep didn't quite get going in the opening two matches but he found his form with two goals against Wales. One of the very few positives for Reid from the Wales game was how Akashdeep and Mandeep combined to get the goal. It's important for Akashdeep to be on the field for as long as possible.
According to the FIH data, India have a much better record over New Zealand, winning 24 times to New Zealand's 15. In their last three face-offs, India scored 14 goals, including recent 7-4 and 4-3 victories in the Pro League.
What Graham Reid said
On Hardik's replacement Raj Kumar Pal: "Hardik was in very good form but Raj has also been in very good form. He's one of the stars of the future, I believe. It's disappointing for Hardik but also exciting for Raj. For those who would've watched the New Zealand games (Pro League) late last year, you would've seen some of the stuff that he can do."
On New Zealand's gameplan: "They've got nothing to lose from their point of view. All the pressure is on India, that's true. I back my players to stand up under pressure."
On how to keep calm under pressure: "What you saw the other night was... just before the game we found out that we need to score eight goals or whatever it was which goes through the head and therefore instead of doing the normal stuff, we perhaps overcompensated. Looking at the video (of the match) since then, I was much more happy with the performance. We talked about spaces in the circle to create and not crowding it. I think that also happens when everyone's trying to score goals. Hopefully, we can fix that.
"We have enough talent in this group to compensate."
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) January 21, 2023
What about New Zealand?
The 'underperforming' tag also applies to Greg Nicol's New Zealand. A few months back when they were in Bhubaneswar to play the Pro League, New Zealand impressed with their attacking hockey, although their defence needed significant improvement.
In three World Cup games so far, New Zealand have scored fewer goals than India - just five. They conceded eight goals and lost against lower-ranked Malaysia in the group stage.
Much like India, New Zealand are also struggling with their penalty corners, with a solitary conversion from 10 chances. When asked where his team could improve, Nicol pointed out, "Penalty corners and attacking the circle. You can't get into the attacking circle so many times and not score four, five goals. So our attacking group needs to have a good look at themselves. We also conceded three goals (against Malaysia), but sometimes you make mistakes."