BHUBANESWAR: One goal down and just five minutes into their pool game against the Netherlands at Rourkela earlier in the week, New Zealand left the spectators stunned, swapping the goalkeeper for a player additional.
The innovation turned out to be suicidal as the Black Sticks ultimately lost the match 0-4. But Nic Woods and his men have come to India with a bag of tricks they’re not afraid to reveal at crucial moments. “We’re trying to bring some innovation to the game and that’s just one element,” Woods remarked.
Agreeing with the skipper, head coach Greg Nicol also said the team would not hesitate to experiment against the hosts. “We will definitely (use innovations) if we have to. If we think we have to influence the game, whether it’s in the fourth quarter or the first, we know we have things to do. »
It could prove to be a double-edged sword for Harmanpreet Singh & co, when the two teams meet in a contest at Kalinga Stadium here on Sunday night to decide who will face defending champions Belgium in the quarter-finals.
New Zealand did not have a good run in the competition with their only victory against Chile. They lost to the Netherlands and Malaysia to finish third in Group C. Their woes resemble those of India – the inability to convert opportunities into goals.
The last time the two teams met was in November last year in the FIH Pro League games at the same venue. India beat New Zealand 7-4, 4-3 in the two-legged tie, but not before the Kiwis gave them a points run. New Zealand – ranked 12th in the world and six rungs below India – are unfazed despite the underdog label. They will be looking to wear India down with early pressure, a tactic that won them initial success in the Pro League.
India head coach Graham Reid pointed to a strong defensive display from the home side.
“We faced them earlier (in the Pro League) and we scored a lot. At the time, we were trying to work our best six (in defense). Since then we have strengthened our defense. I expect a strong defensive performance,” said the Australian.
India, who had a closed session the day before the game, suffered a scare after key man Mandeep Singh limped off the pitch after taking a knock to his knee. Asked about the impact of the blow, a visibly annoyed Reid remarked, “It was supposed to be a closed practice.” With Hardik ruled out of the tournament, India cannot afford another injury.
India, who took a break from training on Friday, had two sessions on Saturday focusing on their current gray area – penalty corner conversion and penalty shootouts. India will also draw some confidence from the stats of the previous edition where finalists Netherlands and Belgium took the cross path to battle it out for the title. One fact that will work in India’s favor is their 12th man – the roaring home crowd that New Zealanders are wary of.

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