Asian Champions Trophy 2018: Tournament gives us self-confidence with an eye on Asian Games gold, says Sjoerd Marijne
A second consecutive gold was always the aim but the defending champions met their match against the determined hosts who broke Indian hearts and went on to register their third Asian Champions Trophy title. Sunita Lakra's side had to settle for silver and Vandana won the player of the tournament award.
After dominating all their matches against Japan, Malaysia, and a higher-ranked Chinese team, the Indians seemed ill at ease against the Koreans who blunted India's strategy of going in for the kill early. The Indians also did not seem to have an answer to Korea's trademark strategy of spreading out in a manner so as to deny space in midfield and thus found it increasingly difficult to weave their way forward.
Despite the loss in the finals, the Indians will no doubt carry several positives forward. They looked to attack from the word go and played fast and attacking hockey, which unnerved all their opponents except the hosts.
Bad refereeing plays a part, but Korea better on the day
India played Korea last and the Koreans no doubt had kept a close eye on India's formations and gameplan and had come up with their own to counter the defending champions. It was evident from the group match yesterday and the final today that the hosts did not allow the Indians to continue playing the way they did against the other teams in the competition.
That apart, the Indian girls seemed a wee-bit fatigued in the last two quarters and were unable to match the speed and sharpness of the Koreans, either in midfield or in defence. A few minutes after half-time, the Indians were playing second fiddle and the rampaging Koreans caused havoc in the Indian circle.
A solitary goal from Lee Youngsil in the 24th minute made all the difference but the Koreans could have scored a few more had it not been for Savita in the Indian goal and some bad finishing by the hosts in the Indian circle.
The Golden Girls were let down by a questionable yellow card, and a PC that was not awarded for mysterious reasons when replays clearly showed that the ball had struck a Korean foot in the circle.
All in all, the Indians dished out a performance that they will be proud of in a tournament with a tough round-robin format against the top teams in Asia.
A month and a half from now, the World Cup begins at the Lee Valley Hockey Center in London. India is placed alongside Olympic champions, England, World no 7. USA, and Ireland in Pool B.
So, what has the team gained at Donghae and what are flaws that the Indians need to iron out before heading to London?
Sportskeeda had an exclusive interaction with head coach Sjoerd Marijne on what he thought of India's campaign at Donghae and the road ahead.
Sportskeeda: How satisfied are you with the result today?
Sjoerd Marijne: Of course you want to win the final and everybody is disappointed when we didn’t win but we also know we can do better than today. This will motivate us, even more, to go for gold at the Asian Games.
Almost every team was with their full squad and this tournament gives us good self-confidence for the rest of the year.
Sportskeeda: Do you feel the tight marking of the Koreans played a role in the defeat?
Sjoerd Marijne: Absolutely. We didn’t get the balls to the strikers like we would and we need to improve that in the next few months.
Sportskeeda: India should have had a PC towards the end, as the ball touched a Korean foot in the circle. What are your thoughts?
Sjoerd Marijne: I agree with you and then we could have drawn and played the shoot-outs. Don’t know why we didn’t get it.
Sportskeeda: Do you feel Korea are a better team than India or was it just that they were better on the day?
Sjoerd Marijne: They were better on the day. The teams are close to each other (in quality) and today they created more but we know we can do better than this.
Sportskeeda: India tried a lot of long balls into the circle but the strikers could not connect. Is that an area to work on for the future?
Sjoerd Marijne: Also, good point from you, I agree with what you say about this. We have to create more diversity to enter the opponent's circle.
Sportskeeda: What are the biggest positives from the performance of the girls in this tournament?
Sjoerd Marijne: I must say that I enjoyed how they grow as a group. A big compliment to Priyanka, the psychologist. They (the players) improved in their fitness, so some players can play longer. Our pressure was good, we improved after we intercepted the ball to go more forward.
Sportskeeda: What areas would you like the team to work on for the World Cup?
Sjoerd Marijne: We don’t have a lot of time to change things but it’s important to keep training our defence in one-versus-one and control the ball more, so strikers get more balls in these kinds of matches.
Sportskeeda: Finally, do you feel the Indian girls have the confidence to make a mark in the World Cup as it will be a huge event?
Sjoerd Marijne: Yes, but it is most important that the girls should have the confidence, and they do. We played here against the full squads of China and Korea, and both are higher-ranked teams and we showed that we are not afraid for them. The team has a good positive focus for the upcoming tournaments.