Nothing brightens the smiles as much as a win. When Preeti Dubey scored the winning goal against Chile on Wednesday, coach Sjoerd Marijne high-fived every player and official in the dugout. He knew the importance of it. With the defence playing better, all India needed was a goal from forwards. Dubey provided it, India won 1-0 and secured their entry into the last-eight of the Women’s Hockey World League Semifinals in Johannesburg. But the coach didn’t miss an important note about India’s play.
The point in reference was India’s tame 1-4 defeat in the previous match against USA – ranked sixth. That was the “difficult match” India failed to win. Marijne’s comment also had something hidden between the lines – that India should have done much better than 1-0 against Chile, ranked 20th and lowest in Pool B.
The end result, which is what matters the most, is that India managed their first victory of the tournament in a crucial match. That’s where the teams need to be given the credit, whatever the scoreline.
“It was a must-win game for us, and we did exactly that. The pressure [to reach the quarterfinals] is off now and we hope to do better against Argentina,” Marijne said, talking to The Field after the match.
But there are problem areas India need to address before their last – and toughest match – of the pool stage against the World No 3 Argentina.
India’s possession (48%) in the opposition’s half on Wednesday improved from the last match against USA, but was still below Chile’s (52%), which put Indian defenders and goalkeeper Savita under pressure. Top-ranked teams don’t let those opportunities go unused, which is where India lose difficult matches.
“We are losing possession at risky places, which allows [goal-scoring] chances against us. This has to improve in our defensive structure. I am happy with the result but our overall performance can be a lot better,” Marijne said on the issue.
Putting penalty corners to use
Like in the game against USA, India’s three penalty corners against Chile, too, went futile. Upon being quizzed what ails India in that department, Marijne came up with a very precise reply, throwing weight behind his dragflicker Gurjeet Kaur.
“If we don’t inject the ball at the right place and stop it cleanly, then Gurjeet can’t do much. The first two things have to be perfect for a dragflicker to execute his skills. That’s where we have to be better. I have no doubt whatsoever in Gurjeet’s abilities and it’s a misunderstanding that we lack a quality dragflicker,” the coach explained.
However, a classic Indian goal
The 38th-minute goal scored by Dubey had a stamp of India all over it. A long ball was well trapped by Rani Rampal, who moved into the circle with Dubey on her left. The skipper’s skillful dribble took her past a couple of defenders before she set up Dubey, who made no mistake in timing and directing her scoop past the Chile goalkeeper to perfection.
The goal underlined what Indian strikers can do when their coordination falls in place. It also put into perspective what Marijne had said about his team before the tournament began.
“We have individual qualities to execute. If we use those as a team, we will play good,” the Dutchman had told The Field.
India, currently third in Pool B with four points, will have a three-day rest before they meet Argentina on Sunday, which is when the line-up for the quarterfinals will also be decided.