India eye semis spot, to face Uzbekistan in final pool tie

India eye semis spot, to face Uzbekistan in final pool tieIndian Captain Manpreet Singh reacts, as teammate looks on, after scoring a goal against Poland during FIH Men's Series Finals 2019, at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday

India will start overwhelming favourites against Uzbekistan when the hosts take on their lower-ranked rival to seal a semifinal spot in the FIH Series...

Bhubaneswar : India will start overwhelming favourites against Uzbekistan when the hosts take on their lower-ranked rival to seal a semifinal spot in the FIH Series Finals hockey tournament, here on Monday.

After thrashing Russia 10-0 in their tournament-opener, world no. 5 India scrapped past 21st ranked Poland 3-1 in the second match. India are now sitting atop Pool A with maximum points from two games and are virtually assured of a direct berth in the semi-finals because of a better goal difference.

But they cannot afford to be complacent against world no. 43 Uzbekistan in their final Pool A match as two places are up for grabs from this event for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers, to be held in October-November this year.

"World rankings do not matter at all as the gap between teams are very small. Rankings are there only for the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to place teams in certain order," India coach Graham Reid had said.

After a clinical performance against Russia, the patchy show against Poland showed that consistency is an area, which has to be addressed at the earliest. The Indians created numerous scoring opportunities against Poland but the forward-line lacked finishing.

"One of my main goals is to get consistency in terms of performance. Sometimes you have to learn to play at the highest level and develop the practice of winning. With Australia that was always our goal, to play in the final of every tournament," the coach said.

With the level of opposition not the best, the Indian citadel has hardly been tested in the tournament. Reid has shuffled his two goalkeepers PR Sreejesh and Krishan Bahadur Pathak in the four quarters in the previous two games, giving them more game time.

But what is a worrying factor is that both Sreejesh and Pathak have hardly been tested so far. Along side Nilkanata Sharma, skipper Manpreet Singh has been one of the outstanding performers for India in the tournament so far as he not only held the mid-field together but also scored goals. But it is the form of Indian strikers which would be a cause of concern for Reid.

The likes of Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh and fit-again Ramandeep Singh, who returned after almost one year, will have to take more responsibility in India's quest for Tokyo Olympic qualification.

As per the format of the tournament, the top two two teams of each pool will directly qualify for the semifinals, while the second and third placed sides will play in the cross-overs to enter the last-four round.

Meanwhile in other matches of the day, USA will play Asian Games champions Japan in Pool B while South Africa will square off against Mexico.

Russia scrape past Poland 3-2 to finish second in Pool A: Russia put up an impressive performance to eke out a 3-2 win over Poland and finish their Pool A engagements in the second spot here on Sunday.

Russia, who lost 0-10 to India in their tournament opener, got their act together after the drubbing and routed Uzbekistan 12-1 before recording a fighting win over Poland, who are ranked one place above them at 21st.

Pavel Golubev (17th, 59th) scored a brace for Russia, while Semen Matkovskiy (57th) was the other goal getter for the winners. Poland's goals came from the sticks of Mateusz Hulboj (28th) and Pawe Bratkowski (45th).

Russia finished second in Pool A with six points from two wins, while Poland are third with just a victory.

Both Russia and Poland are virtually through to the cross-overs unless Uzbekistan cause a major upset against India on Monday and that too by a huge margin.

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