India were hoping not to run into Aran Zalewski and his men before the title round and they did well to avoid them by topping Pool ‘B’. But the semifinals on Saturday will be a tricky contest against a plucky South Africa who battled past New Zealand in their last league outing to end a 20-year-old semifinal drought.
In terms of history and current ranking, India will start favourites on paper. But on the pitch, the South Africans, ranked 13 in the world, can pose a stiff challenge.
India’s strength lies in decimating the opposition defenders and earning penalty corners. This will be an uphill task against an opposition which defends well, is quick on the counter and sharp with penalty corner conversions.
India were largely clinical in their group games but would like to imbibe key lessons from it, especially the 4-all draw against England. For one, they can ill-afford to drop the intensity in the final quarter. Also the defenders will have to mind their legs in the circle.
The strikers, led by Mandeep Singh, will have to work as a unit, cover angles and be sharp with their shots at the goal. Mandeep, who has scored four goals thus far, has been guilty of slacking inside the circle, especially with the basics like positioning himself and covering the angles well while taking a shot at the goal. Same has been the case with the experienced Akashdeep Singh.
While Harmanpreet Singh will continue to be the go-to man, he will look for better support in the back line from Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar. With India going with a rotation policy, second goalkeeper Kishan Pathak will be wary of the power and speed of the South Africans.
The last time the two teams met was at the FIH Pro League in Potchefstroom earlier this year, where India had returned 10-2 victors.