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Azlan Shah Cup 2019:  India lose yet another shootout - fail to keep their nerves in final 

FEATURED COLUMNIST
Feature
30 Mar 2019, 22:07 IST


Manpreet and co weren't able to win another penalty shootout
Manpreet and co weren't able to win another penalty shootout

History does not seem to be a subject which the Indian men's hockey team either have an affinity for - or, understanding of.

How else can one explain the inability of the fifth-best side in the world to consolidate on a narrow lead, and play the opposition out of the contest - in spite of creating numerous goal-scoring opportunities throughout the duration of the match?

More significantly, how on earth can a quality side concede a penalty stroke in the last quarter of a big final, so as to meekly surrender the advantage - after having defended their hearts out for the remainder of the contest?

The long list of lost shootouts continues unabated. From the Champions Trophy final of 2016 at London - to the final of the next edition of the same tournament at Breda - to the Asian Games semifinal at Jakarta - and now, the Azlan Shah Cup final.

The Indian coaching staff have often maintained that shootouts can never be perfected - perhaps, that is indeed the case - but the Indian think-tank will have to address the issue of why the squad fails to hold on to their nerve in crucial moments on the big stage.

In the World Cup quarterfinal against the Netherlands, Amit Rohidas picked up a yellow card for a needless infringement and, yet again, was unable to maintain his composure, which led to the Koreans being awarded a penalty stroke a couple of minutes into the final quarter.

The Odisha lad is an irreplaceable member of the unit, whose brave body blocks as a first runner, have resulted in innumerable short corners being saved - and it is, perhaps, for the team management to find a way to calm the players down, to enable them to perform at their peak in the matches that matter.

Simaranjeet Singh's goal in the ninth minute set the Indians off on the right track, but the Korean defense kept the Indian strikers at bay for the rest of the match.

The Indian defence, on their part, managed to defend the Korean counter-attacks with aplomb and kept things tidy in their own circle for the most part.

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For all their efforts though, Jong-Hyun Jang equalized, thanks to the penalty stroke, and the Indians failed to convert their drag flicks.

With the score at 1-1, Indian fans were on the edge of their seats when Manpreet and co. earned a PC in the 58th minute, which resulted in a long-corner instead of a goal, much to their disappointment.

Krishan Pathak was chosen to defend India's citadel in the vital shootout, instead of veteran goalkeeper Sreejesh - a decision which will, perhaps, be debated for a long time to come.

Young Krishan did have a chance to become an overnight hero if only the Indians had prevailed in the shootout - but the events which followed could not have done the youngster's confidence any good.

Mandeep Singh who was prolific throughout the tournament failed to find the back of the net in the final - not even in the shootout. Varun Kumar and Birendra Lakra scored for the Indians in the tie-breaker, while Sumit and Sumit Kumar Junior missed the mark.

The Indians last won gold in the Dhaka Asia Cup of 2017- and, have thus squandered a golden opportunity to begin the year on a high, despite being the top-ranked team in the competition by quite a margin.

The Koreans managed to hold India, Pakistan, and Malaysia - with identical margins of 1-1 in the Super 4's stage of the Dhaka Asia Cup of 2017 - and have demonstrated, yet again, that their gritty defence can be hard to breach.

For the Indians who await the appointment of a new head coach - the introspection begins ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.

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