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Hockey Champions Trophy 2016: A final that could have gone either way

Controversial goal may have altered the result of the gold medal match.

India Champions Trophy
India won their first medal in the Champions Trophy after 34 years

India lost their gold medal match in Hockey Champions Trophy (HCT) final in the penalty shootout last night 1-3 to the number one team in the world, Australia. The completion to the grand finale had plenty of drama after India filed a complaint against the second penalty from Daniel Beale, which had been saved by the Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh. It was after a referral, Beale was allowed to re-take his shot again and he scored. The debate whether Sreejesh had obstructed before or after the hooter took more than an hour to come to a conclusion.

India had complained that Beale’s shootout was allowed to go on for 14 seconds, which is more than the normal time limit of 8 seconds. According to India, obstruction happened outside the 8-second mark.

"The umpires have failed," said Hockey India president Narender Batra. "Is this the quality of umpires you post in the final of the Champions Trophy? The shootout attempt went on for over 14 seconds, and then it was re-taken. Just to cover up their shortcomings, they are now pointing out at a different incident. If the goalkeeper had made an infringement, that a penalty stroke should have been awarded."

Also read: Virat Kohli congratulates Indian Hockey Team for their historic Champions Trophy silver 

Indian coach Roelant Oltmans said it was "an unusual end to the tournament". "To be honest, the set process should be followed," he said. "Our protest was not about the result, but important tournaments should follow the process. If something like this happens at the Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro, just imagine the embarrassment for the game." 

Medal presentation happened at the media room away from the spotlight. Both teams had to be escorted out of the ground, to send a signal for the spectators to go home. It was an embarrassment for International Hockey Federation (FIH).  After all, it was the Champions trophy final, one of the major tournament run by FIH.

Now, had the goal of Beale been disallowed and then had S.V. Sunil scored the outcome of the match would have been different because Trent Mitton missed the next strike for Australia and Indian youngster Harmanpreet Singh converted the next attempt. It would have been 2-1 in favor of India by the end of 3 penalties each. Even if you are not so optimistic about Sunil scoring, the score still would have been one a piece.

The pressure in penalty shootouts is far greater on the shooter than the keeper. When a player goes out to take his shot knowing his team is 0-2 down, the pressure is much more than when it is 0-1. In the first case, the pressure doubles as he knows he is nearing the do-or-die situation. Sunil would have scored in a similar situation on any other given day but he missed when it mattered most. Was it the doubling of pressure?

Also read: 2016 FIH Men's Champions Trophy: Hockey India President blasts match officials for outrageous umpiring

It's also the expectation to some extent that adds on the pressure of the match, dictates the nerves for certain players. Here India was carrying the expectation of not to miss the gold at a world stage after 36 years. The belief of winning doubled after the first 60 minutes of dominating hockey which India played. Then when they went 0-2 down with a controversial goal it does effect the rhythm and focus of a player. More the lead, more is the advantage to the other team.

The penalty shootout is more of a mental game than the set of techniques for the selected five. In a penalty shootout, the first strike sets the tone for what follows. If a team goes to take the strike first the chances of winning are 60-40 (according to research) and if you score then the chances of winning increases. Ironically in fact if you toss a coin the probability of winning is 50-50.

If you look at the psychological game of a hockey penalty shootout, it’s very similar to that of football.  Statistics says in FIFA World Cup 59% of the penalty shootout have been won by the team shooting first. A very similar numbers are found for UEFA Champions League as well, where 67% shootout are won by the team that went in first.

Intensive practice of penalty shoot-out is the only way to manage pressure. Tip to the players is always to take a deep breath, keep calm, brush aside the weight of an entire country, be focused and just score.

It’s time to keep behind Beale’s controversial goal for Team India and take all the positives from HCT 2016 and move forward. The positives have been plenty which will give them the much-needed confidence before the Olympics.

The last seventy-five minutes for many including the last quarter of their last league game against the Aussies was arguably the most enriching and fascinating hockey the Indian team has played in the last two decades. In these 75 minutes, India scored once and kept the Australians at bay with resounding success.

If they can keep this momentum going in Rio with skipper Sardar Singh and the ace drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh back in the team, surely India will be a team to look out for.

Congratulations to Indian Hockey team on winning a well-deserved silver medal! While they might not have won the gold at London, they certainly have captured the hearts and imaginations of millions back home.

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