It was billed as a match that would allow India to understand where they really stand at the Tokyo Olympics in men’s hockey. But instead, it very quickly became a match that Manpreet Singh’s team would like to forget; a match that the Indian team would like to believe is nothing more than an aberration.
Australia hammered India 7-1 in their Pool A match on Sunday to firmly establish their credentials at the ongoing Olympics.
The Kookaburras struggled against Japan a bit on Saturday and everyone thought India, who beat New Zealand, might be able to exploit that weakness. Instead, Australia were hurting and they approach the match with rare vigour. India, on the other hand, seemed a little flat, perhaps feeling the effects of the back-to-back matches.
Still the first quarter was fine. India conceded just one goal (10th minute) – a shot from Jacob Whetton at the edge of the circle took a deflection off Daniel Beale and went into the goal. India weren’t able to go on the attack but they held on till the end.
But then came a six-minute period which destroyed them. Jeremy Hayward scored in the 21st minute, Flynn Ogilvie with a superb strike got a field goal (23’) and then Joshua Beltz (26’) stepped up too. Before India could even react they were 4-0 down and running out of ideas.
They managed to take it to half-time at the same score and coach Graham Reid managed to coax something out of them during the break.
They came out looked to go on the front foot and attack the Aussies. The sustained pressure got them their only goal of the match in the 34th minute, when Dilpreet Singh guided the ball into the net.
But just as it looked like India might find a way back into the match, Australia struck again. Blake Govers scored through a penalty stroke in the 40th minute and then through a penalty corner in the 42nd minute.
The Aussies weren’t done yet and Brand got another goal in the 51st minute. The Kookaburras were simply magnificent with their finishing.
India’s biggest defeats in international hockey
0-8 against Holland in 1985
0-8 against Australia in 2010 (Commonwealth Games)
1-7 against Pakistan in 1982 (Asian Games)
1-7 against Australia in 2021 (Olympic Games)
India (24) actually had more circle penetrations than Australia (22) but it is always about what you do with the opportunities. Australia made theirs count while India did waste a few.
The only silver lining of the big defeat is that this was India’s toughest game in Pool A. Spain and Argentina are tricky opponents but they aren’t Australia.
For many old-timers, the defeat brought back memories of a 1-6 defeat against Australia at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. To many observers, that was the end of India’s domination of the game; an end they have still not recovered from.
This defeat, though, is very different and one wonders what it will lead to. India have no option but to shrug this defeat and move on. They still have everything to play for and in the end, that is what matters. This is a time for Manpreet Singh, PR Sreejesh and everyone else involved to show leadership and help the team rise up again.
As former India skipper Viren Rasquinha said on Sony Sports, “You concede, you concede as a team. You cannot just blame the goalkeeper. Every single player needs to take a good hard look at themselves.”