On paper, one would have expected India to ease past China on Tuesday evening, considering their three successive victories against the world No 12 outfit earlier this year in the Asia Cup and Pro League. But that didn’t happen as the World Cup match between the two neighbours ended in a 1-1 draw at the Wagener Stadium in Amstelveen.
This was India’s second draw in a row after rallying to tie 1-1 against England on Sunday. In the Pool B opener on Saturday, New Zealand had drawn 2-2 against China.
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But the scenario changed after New Zealand’s unexpected 3-1 victory over England, who dropped a spot to No 5 in the world, late on Tuesday. New Zealand’s victory meant that they have guaranteed a spot in the next stage of the competition, leaving room for two more out of the three remaining teams.
The World Cup draw is such that the top-placed team after the completion of the group stage qualifies directly for the quarter-finals. The second and third-placed teams will play the crossover matches against outfits from other pools for a berth in the last eight. The last positioned team will be out of contention and will only participate in the classification playoffs.
Jangling nerves, some high-tempo action, missed opportunities and the ebb and flow of the encounters have completely turned the group on its head after the first two rounds with all to play for on Thursday.
While India (2 points) will face current table-toppers and an in-form New Zealand (4) on Thursday, bottom-placed England (1) will take on China (2). A victory for India will guarantee them a spot in the next stage of the competition, be it the quarter-finals or crossovers depending on the result of the other match.
If China upstage England, who have been on the podium in the last three Olympics as Great Britain, then it will boil down to goal difference as to which Asian team tops the group. A draw or loss for China will ensure India a quarter-final spot.
England, the 2016 Olympic champions as Great Britain and the highest-ranked team of the group, have just not fired up all their cylinders. For much of the match against the Black Sticks, England looked to be dominant but failed to capitalise on their much superior possession or circle entries. In total, England had 14 penalty corners but scored just one goal, something head coach David Ralph will be concerned about as the team faces its final pool match against China.
If India draw against New Zealand, it will ensure the Savita Punia-led outfit a spot in the crossovers irrespective of the result of the other Pool B game. But if India lose then Janneke Schopman will be a concerned head coach as their qualification chances will then completely depend on the result of the game between China and England, something that could put them out of the World Cup after round robin.
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