New Delhi:Aiming for their best finish in 16 years, hosts India would find much-improved Argentina a tough nut to crack when the two team's lock horns in the seventh-eighth place play-off match of the hockey World Cup on Friday.
The encounter brings along with it a golden opportunity for India to redeem some lost pride after having finished a lowly 11th out of the 12 teams in the last edition of the tournament in Monchengladbach, Germany four years ago.
This will also be eight-time Olympic champions' best-ever performance in the Wold Cup after 1994 in Sydney where they finished fifth. And it should come as an added motivation for the Rajpal Singh-led side against the aggressive Argentines.
The Indians, however, should consider themselves lucky enough to be playing seventh-eighth play-off match against Argentina after having finished their pool stages with just four points out of the five matches.
After the early spark against Pakistan, India slumped to three consecutive defeats against Australia, Spain and England and then split points against a lowly South Africa in their group engagements.
But on Friday would be a completely new day for Rajpal's men as they take the ground aiming to prove a point that India is slowly and steadily improving.
The Indians have been guilty of conceding early goals in the tournament and they will have to do away with this habit on Friday as the South Americans have always been good at holding on to the lead.
So far in the tournament, the Indian defence wore a defeated look with the duo of Sandeep Singh and Dhananjay Mahadik proving to be duds.
And they can't afford to repeat the same mistakes against the Argentines, who seldom make errors in banking on the odd chance they get.
To add to India's woes, Sandeep's penalty corner conversion has been a concern for coach Jose Brasa, who depended heavily of the drag-flicker to come good against the formidable opponents in the group stages.
However, what is heartening for India is the coordination between mid-field and forward-line and the fighting spirit.
"We are improving with every match. In every match, the boys fought till the last breath," Brasa had said.
Skipper Rajpal Singh said a seventh place finish in the tournament wouldn't be such a bad result for India.
"The team has improved and we played well. Hopefully, we can win tomorrow and finish seventh in the world. On hindsight, that wouldn't be too bad," he said.
Argentina, on the other hand, have been erratic in the tournament so far but made significant improvement in the later stages of their group encounters.
The Indian forwards would find it very difficult to crack the Argentine defence, which is known for its man-to-man marking and power play.
Going by the head-to-head record between the two sides in World Cup, Argentina hold an edge over India.
The Argentines have played India seven times in the World Cup and won four matches and lost two while a lone game ended in no result.
Friday's match against India is also crucial for Argentina hockey, which is battling hard to make its presence felt in the soccer-crazy nation.
"It is an exciting final game for us. This World Cup I very important for Argentina hockey. If we finish seventh or eighth, it will open lots of possibilities for the team to play more international matches. The government will also be interested in giving money to hockey," Argentina coach Pablo Lombi said.
"It would be difficult for us to play in front of such a huge crowd which is not normal in Argentina, but there won't be any pressure on us against India. I would b a good experience for us," he said.
Lombi has already prepared his tactical strategies to curb the Indians tomorrow and said, "India have very good individual players. Our tactic would be not to give too much space to the Indians and one-touch hockey in small space."
Meanwhile, in other classification matches of the day, South Africa will face New Zealand for ninth-10th place while Korea would be up against Olympic silver medallist Spain for the fifth-sixth spot.