The stage is set – India to face Netherlands in the quarterfinal clash on Thursday. As many expected, Netherlands reigned supreme over Canada in the cross-over tie, picking an easy 4-0 win. Despite a cagey first quarter, Balk Lars and Robbert Kemperman put their side into a 2-0 lead at half-time. In the next 15 minutes, Thijs van Dam and Thiery Brinkman doubled the lead, making the final quarter a mere formality.
Despite the dominant performance, the discussion shifted to Netherlands’ next clash against India as soon as the final whistle blew. Even the Canada captain Tupper Scott was asked to weigh in on the two teams. “I would not know the two teams’ mindset. But I would see an exciting contest in store – with both of them attacking, and trying to outdo each other,” he said after the match.
Netherlands’ star forward Jeroen Hertzberger, who has been among the top goalscorers for the Dutch against India in the past few years, said he is excited for the contest. “It’s an exciting game. We are very excited to see if we can do well. We need to focus on performing well, not let anything outside the lines influence us. We need to have confidence in our game,” he said.
Facing a struggling Canada, who were entering the contest on the back of a 5-1 defeat against the hosts, Netherlands were always expected to be India’s next challenge in the tournament. Speaking to reporters at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar earlier in the day, India captain Manpreet Singh was also quizzed on the prospects of the contest. “Most likely we will face Netherlands. The past results matter a lot – because Netherlands have a better result against us. But, we have played well against them recently. We have also beaten them, we drew against them at Champions Trophy. Indian Hockey has improved a lot. The match will be tough, and which ever team plays better will win,” he had said.
The two sides may be separated by one place on the world rankings- India are fourth while Netherlands are fifth – but the Dutch have fared well against the hosts in the past. In the 103 games played between the two sides, India are on the wrong side of a 33-48 record. The country is also home of the Hoofdklasse, one of the biggest hockey tournaments in the world that has featured the likes of Argentina’s Gonzalo Peillat and Hertzberger himself in the past few years.
India, on the other hand, enter the World Cup on the back of a disastrous Commonwealth Games campaign, followed by a massive upset at the Asian Games. The Hockey India League, an attempt to replicate the IPL-style format in hockey in the country, was also scrapped earlier this year.
But Hertzberger said the league back home does not necessarily put them as the favourites in the quarterfinals. “On the one hand, because you play more games under stress in hockey league at home. On the other hand, India have Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Asian Champions Trophy – all of which do not. We only have the Europeans, they have other games to make up for the experience. Their advantage is that they can train more together – we have not as much time to train together as India,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges for the Dutch side will be to silence a 15,000-strong home crowd at Kalinga Stadium on Thursday when the two teams square off. But Netherlands coach Caldas Max pegged down the worries of the same. “We are used to playing against vast crowds. We have also played India in the past, here. So, the crowd is not a worry,” he said.