It is difficult to write this article, much like it is for you to read it after yesterday's double heartbreak in the space of five minutes and more so in Hockey in the last 4 seconds. A picture says a thousand words, they say!
My heart pounds to see our leader Sreejesh in such a sorry state. Barely had people overcome their grief on Abhinav Bindra losing the 3rd/4th place shoot off in the men’s 10m air rifle event, were they given another jolt with a goal from Christopher Ruhr in the dying seconds. How brutal can sport and life be at times?
A classic of a match!
Although the match was not goal scoring and both teams shared the spoils with one goal apiece for most of the match, this game has to go down as one of the better games in recent competitive hockey history.
India dominated the first quarter with Nikkin hitting low on the reverse to produce a save from Jacobi. Having struggled to find a foothold on the game, Germany however, opened the proceedings against the run of play with Wellen beating the onrushing Sreejesh at his far post. But since the German goal, it was one-way traffic.
The match was being played with much physicality between the teams from the start. The frustration levels were boiling on some of the German players with one nasty tackle waiting or rather wanting to happen! There were many off the ball incidents that resulted in bruises, side and shoulder tackles. The referee had to intervene many a time, to make sure the players keep their temperament in check.
Rupinder scored another of his trademark drag flicks with immense power in his strike. Danish Mujtaba was one of the improved players on the pitch. We kept Ruhr quiet and out of the game for almost the entire duration of the match. India dominated the proceedings in both the next quarters only to be undone at the final whistle.
The heart-breaking moment
The final stage of the match proved costly as we did not close the match. I am sure this sentiment would have been echoed across hundreds in India after the match.
How many times have we seen this from India? When will we overcome this mental block of conceding in the last minutes of a game? Perhaps not just we but the players are also looking for this answer but unfortunately time is running out.
Oltmans perhaps realizing what such a defeat can do to players, came running out to address all the team members in a huddle after the hooter. It speaks volumes of how much it means to each one of them. And going by the Germans and last 2-time champions celebrating this victory as if they won the tournament!
A team we are expected to defeat!
Bouncing back from such a defeat would be difficult but do we have any other option?
Argentina are ranked 7 i.e. 2 positions lower than India and hence a team that we are expected to defeat! We have to be wary of the deadly flicks from Gonzalo Peillat and also the midfield domination from veteran and most capped player – Matías Paredes. India also needs to keep the attacking duo of Lucas Vila and Agustín Mazzilli in check.
Gonzalo Peillat vs PR Sreejesh
Peillat is very dangerous on the drag flicks and the entire defense needs to stand tall when facing a penalty corner. Firstly, the on-rusher in the form of VR Raghunath needs to block his shot, at its inception.Moreover, Peillat hits most of his shots low and hence Sreejesh needs to check his goal line position and be alert to dive downwards or even use his feet to good use. Having a man on the line will make a lot of difference and hence a goal line save from Kothajit can be expected.Harmanpreet Singh and VR Raghunath vs Lucas Vila and Agustín Mazzilli
Harmanpreet, how has he risen to the challenge so far in the last few tournaments. He needs to check the runs of both Lucas Vila and Agustín Mazzilli and also making darting runs himself and help in the attack. He would be ably supported by Raghunath to calm down any nerves and start an attack deep inside our own half.Danish Mujtaba vs Lucas Rey
This is one of the many key midfield battles as it will determine how the tempo of the match swings from one-half to another. Danish had a good outing last match and would be fresh and high on confidence. He needs to replicate his form and make good inroads from the middle of the pitch to supply good quality balls down the flanks.
Juan Manuel Vivaldi vs Rupinder Pal Singh
Rupinder seems to be scoring goals for fun, but the Argentine think tank and the goalkeeper would have studied his penalty corners and will come up with plans to thwart all attempts. India should also try out a variation instead or hand in the responsibility to another drag flicker – having both Raghunath and Harmanpreet at their disposal.
Rise up to the next challenge!
But let all bygones be bygones. We and more importantly India needs to pick themselves up quickly and not dwell in this result for long.
But what both these close encounter (albeit with a loss) yesterday has surely sent the passion levels in the country to an altogether new level. And everyone is eagerly looking forward to tomorrow's match.
What is disheartening to note is the inability of our forward line to score a field goal for the second match running! This might lead to some rejig and rethinking of strategies, perhaps forced and much before any serious ramifications. Our coach would perhaps like to try out Sardar or even Harmanpreet Singh up front. This would also give a clear message to the forwards who have squandered chances early on in this tournament.
Luckily we are still building for the knockout stages and there are no serious repercussions attached to the last match. And in every defeat, there is a learning and we should hold our heads high because we were by far the better team! As Sreejesh urges the team and I quote,
Let’s join him to support our team, i.e. the least we can do after the mentally and physically draining match last afternoon.
Prediction: A come from behind goal for India in the final minutes of the last quarter, to earn a hard fought 3-3 or 2-2 draw or even a victory depending on the scoreline in the third quarter.
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Team India – rise up and surpass the next challenge in the quest of achieving our larger goal!