BHUBANESWAR: League fixtures in two of the four pools have drawn to a close. Olympic champions Argentina from Pool A and title-holders Australia from Pool B can now sit back and enjoy the World Cup for a while. They have booked two of the four spots available for direct qualification to the quarterfinals. Another pool-topper will join them on Saturday, which will be either hosts India or Belgium from Pool C.
Like over the last two days here at the Kalinga Stadium, calculators will be out on the weekend as well, with the likelihood of goal-difference coming into play to decide who claims top honours in Pool C, who moves into the crossovers and who goes home. However, India’s 5-0 win over South Africa in their opening game may prove decisive in that context.
France’s victory over Olympic champions Argentina showed that minnows can be taken lightly at your own peril. Debutant China’s two draws England and Ireland are another example. At No. 20, France are ranked the lowest among 16 teams in the tournament and China second-lowest at 17th. The important fact, though, is that both are through to the knockouts and will face off in the crossovers for a place in the quarters.
India and Belgium will thus be wary of the threat Canada and South Africa can bring to the turf.
As things stand on Saturday morning, India share the same number of points (four) with Belgium from a draw and a win. But the hosts are ahead on goal difference (+5) compared to Belgium (+1).
That math may be revisited if both the big guns from Pool C manage to win on Saturday.
Calculation will be a lot simpler for India if they beat Canada and Belgium lose or are held to a draw by the South Africans. The Red Lions would surely be hoping of India meeting that fate instead.
However, if both India and Belgium lose, then all four teams will end up with four points and positions decided on goal difference.
If the two matches end up as drawn affairs, then India will top pool to move into the quarters; Belgium and Canada will join the teams in crossovers at No. 2 and 3 respectively; and South Africa will check out of Bhubaneswar.
The new format certainly keeps things alive and teams on their toes, which is why Canada and South Africa are still in the fray for a place in the crossovers and will undoubtedly pull out all stops to travel deeper into the tournament.