India finished second to Argentina in the recently concluded Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament at Ipoh, Malaysia. For a team that was playing in the aftermath of the recent upheaval in the Indian Hockey Federation, their performance was laudable. After beginning the tournament in the typically Indian fashion – losing games that should have been won – against Argentina and New Zealand, India returned in style to win the next four games, and finish second to Argentina on the leader board. The South Americans were the only team unbeaten in the tournament, and deservedly so.
The gap between Indian, and Asian hockey, and the world standard became glaringly obvious in the two games that India lost to the Argentines – thrashed 5-1 in the round robin phase, and edged out 2-1 in the finals.
The final was a battle of nerves as India and Argentina were locked 1-1 in regulation time and only a golden goal from Mario Almada could give the South Americans the win, in a game that once again, pundits believe, India should have won.
What plagues Indian hockey on the field stems largely from the off field issues. However, there are a few which should have been sorted out by now on the training pitch, for instance, the conversion of penalty corners. Sandeep Singh has been a revelation of sorts, but surely now, there must be more than just the odd conversion on the cards. In the final itself, India received a few penalty corners, and only one of them found the back of the net. Another issue that the players and the coaching staff must sort out is the nervous play. India scored a goal, but were almost instantly put on the back foot and conceded a goal to the veteran Almada, a repeat of what happened in the Round Robin game against New Zealand where India squandered a 2-nil lead to lose 3-4. Sandeep Singh’s heroic hat trick was not enough to see India through in that game either.
India, though, took back more positives than negatives from the tourney. Fielding a young side, the players realized their potential and showed the tenacity that was needed to get to the final, where they did put up a spirited display. Also, the way they put the entire scandal behind them is admirable. Nevertheless, one has to ask if this is the side that will take the Olympics by storm once again and be successful. The road to rebuilding the Indian side is not going to be easy.
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