The Indian strikers have traditionally loved playing to the gallery with speedy runs, weaving past a horde of defenders and entering the circle in grand style. The potent combination of speed and artistry served as a delight to spectators the world over but often failed to make a contribution to the scoresheet, especially against the top teams.
Five years ago, if one were to claim that the Indian men's hockey team might have a serious chance at winning the FIH Hockey Champions Trophy, then most listeners would have responded with amusement. During 2012, India had achieved their worst ever position in field hockey at any Summer Olympics by finishing last out of 12 teams.
However, five years since their lowest ebb, not many would dare to laugh at the prospect of India becoming major contenders for one of the biggest tournaments in hockey.
FIH CHAMPIONS TROPHY 2018:
Ramandeep Singh, Dilpreet Singh, Mandeep Singh and Lalit Upadhyay scored for India as they opened their FIH Champions Trophy campaign in style. India outclassed arch-rivals Pakistan 4-0 at Breda in Netherlands.
In India vs. Belgium, down but not out, India gave it their all in the match against Belgium. A minor error in the dying minutes denied them of a well-deserved win, yet the draw of 1-1 against Belgium has not only helped them stay in contention but also knocked Belgium out from reaching the finals.
Learning from the mistakes against Australia, India was aggressive from the word go. Coach Harendra Singh inspired his boys to give their best, and soon enough, he had reasons to smile. The lead was finally broken in the dying minutes of the match, when Loick Luypaert converted a penalty corner into the goal, equalizing the score by 1-1.
However, the last minute effort wasn't enough for Belgium, as they're out of contention from the finals, with no wins, three draws and a loss against the Netherlands.
Belgium might have scored a goal from a short corner, but the fact that they missed 10 penalty corners to score one, doesn't sound great for the Olympic silver medalists.
A huge credit goes to the Indian defenders Surender Kumar, Birendra Lakra and Amit Rohidas, along with goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, who denied them every single opportunity. Even a last minute attempt to turn the tables failed, as Sreejesh stood tall in front of the Indian goal, solid as a rock. Though India also failed to convert three of their four penalty corners, it was still a significant improvement from the disastrous show at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. With this draw, the Men in Blue are still in contention for the finals.
Argentina tasted a shock defeat at the hands of the Indians a day after beating the hosts at Breda. Belgium, the Netherlands, and Australia were, at the very least, shaken by India's sudden revival and will look to invest some extra time in formulating an India strategy ahead of the World Cup.
As for Pakistan, Roelant Oltmans' troops performed creditably keeping in mind their thirteenth ranking, thrashing Argentina and coming pretty close to holding the Aussies and the Belgians too in the classification match. In the opener though, they were outplayed comprehensively by a ruthless Indian side in spite of offering some resistance initially.
It’s always a dream to see India winning the World Cup and this time all the more because it will be held in Bhubaneshwar. Such performances as seen in the HWL will not help in realizing the dream. If India were perfect on all fronts in beating Pakistan last Sunday and later in the play-offs on Saturday, they were just as hapless against the Netherlands and greatly inferior against Malaysia and even worse against Canada in yesterday’s play-off.
Malaysia did all the right things to floor favorites India, despite Ramandeep Singh threatening to run over the former with two quick goals. This is not the first time India have gone down to Malaysia. Very recently the Yellow Tigers had shocked India in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
What actually went wrong in the quarterfinal against Malaysia and the play-off against Canada? The Malaysians were nippy and determined to upset India’s applecart and so were the North Americans, who defended well to keep the Indian forays at bay.
If it was Ramandeep Singh’s brace that gave hope against Malaysia, India squandered a 2-1 lead after a Harmanpreet Singh double against Canada.
India’s lackadaisical show in both the matches has cast a doubt on India’s overall capability. Compounding miseries for India were their deficiency in defense, futility in attack and lack of cohesion in the middle.
The performance graph for India so far depicts a topsy-turvy ride reflecting the unpredictable nature of Indian hockey. On a given day they win many-a-heart, but that is a rarity and on other days they just fail, which is the reality.