India's head coach Terry Walsh and captain Sardar Singh admit to not being able to sleep properly these days. Despite the smiles, the duo is still haunted by how close they were to getting into the semifinals or at least the top-three in their pool to play for the fifth-sixth places.
India's last game is against Group A leaders Australia on Monday. Asked what he would ask the team to do, Walsh thought for a while and then said, "We are going to go for one but will try for three (points). If you ask me whether we have the capacity right now, I'd say 'No' but if you ask about potential, I'd say 'yes'."
On paper, India still have a chance to play for fifth-sixth places. They need to beat Australia, a tall order indeed, and at the same time would need Belgium to beat England, which is a strong possibility.
To be fair, the Indian team has not been outplayed in any of the games. They have played fairly well. But what has held them back is that they have not been able to make good the chances, and not converted penalty corners. Above all, they have given away goals in closing stages.
Walsh added, "We had a good game against Malaysia on Saturday which has resulted in a morale boost. A win always helps. Akashdeep Singh is in a good form and is surely to be looked out for. From our end, we will focus on scoring goals and concentrate more on saving the crucial last minute goals of the opponent. Also, we have been poor with penalty corners and are working in the direction. I am sure our world class midfield and an energetic forward line will make us a difficult rival for Australia tomorrow."
Sardar spoke about the positive feeling in the team. "The team is all set to take on Australia. Our last match against Malaysia will act as a motivation as we are all looking forward to playing the defending champions. There is positivity in the dressing room that will act in our favour on the field."
Asked about how small the gap has been between various teams, Walsh, said, "Sometimes you wonder. But then you look at the reality – we did not do it. We were so close for a draw with Belgium and frankly we should have won the match against England. We created more chances. To give away those goals does bother you. There is a lot of difference between seven and four points at this stage and you know what means."
Even a draw against England would have got India to five, and England would have had the same. So India would be tied in third place with them behind Australia and Belgium.
So, what does Walsh propose to do? "First to ensure that we don't allow chances in the closing stages. And then, we should start taking our chances and play to a plan that we have prepared. As I have said, this is a young team and we are moving positively. The boys understand the things we need to work on. Sardar is an experienced player and he is helping out. The boys need to know when to be in the right position to score, take penalty corners and so on. Basically close the gaps. We have seen videos and discussed them and now we need to slowly apply them in match situations.
He also talked about the programmes that others have. "England had a decent funding, so does Belgium. Malaysia have a good programme. We have just begun, so we need time," he said.
Australia's depth in the squad is also interesting to highlight. They don't need to depend on any specific two or three players to lead the scoring. In four matches, they have scored 15 goals, and only Glenn Turner (both in same match against South Africa), Jamie Dwyer, Kieran Govers and Eddie Ockenden have scored more than once. So in essence their 15 goals have come from 11 different players.
That they have also let in just one goal means the defence is as sturdy as can be.
In contrast, India have been wayward in finding targets, their penalty corner conversion rate is poor and then there is the mental strength issue in closing stages.
Australia are in quest of winning their third title, which would be an ideal parting gift to coach Ric Charlesworth, for whom this will be his last World Cup.