The perfect record under new head coach Sjoerd Marijne continued as India turned in a clinical performance to put three past arch rivals Pakistan in Dhaka. The momentum stayed with the Indian side and a 3-1 scoreline was a fair reflection of how the final pool A match panned out in the 10th men’s Asia Cup hockey tournament.
India continued their recent domination over Pakistan, that includes back-to-back victories in the Hockey World League Semi-Final in London earlier this year – the run has extended to six matches now.
Chinglesnsana Singh (17th minute), Ramandeep Singh (44th) and Harmanpreet Singh (45th) scored the goals for India, while Pakistan lone strike came from the stick of Ali Shan in the 49th minute.
After the two easy wins against Japan (5-1) and hosts Bangladesh (7-0), as expected India had a relatively tough outing against Pakistan but managed to maintain their all-win record. But there was enough evidence that this was not the best this Indian team is capable of producing.
Lack of ruthlessness
At the start of the third quarter, Pakistan lost two players to the sin bin and the men in green were down to 10 men for the majority of that period. India scored three goals in the third quarter. Oddly enough these two passages of play did not coincide.
While the team have showed a good deal of attacking purpose in their first two matches, they were – perhaps understandably so, given the nature of this match – a little circumspect against Pakistan to start with. The first quarter was like a chess game, moving the pieces from one end to another looking for an opening, a pattern in Pakistan’s play, instead of going for the kill from the start.
But when the opponents were down to 9 players, India failed to extend the 1-0 advantage. Instead it was Pakistan who enjoyed one of their best spells of possession. Perhaps the Indian team took the foot of the pedal, given the conditions were humid and the team was already in the lead, but failing to exploit an evident position of advantage would concern coach Marijne.
Even at the end India pressed hard in the final few minutes and earned as many as three penalty corners in succession but wasted them all.
India controlled the proceedings for the better part of the match, barring a period in the first quarter and majority of the final quarter when Pakistan, trailing 0-3, came hard on the Indian defence in search of goals. But at the end of the day, the Indians held on.
While going forward, the forwards disappointed, the defence and the goalkeepers – Suraj Karkera and Akash Chitke who took the spot between the posts in each half – turned in a mature performance. Sumit and Harmanpreet put in a good shift, chipping in with last minute tackles. The latter even produced the pass of the match when he found Ramandeep in the box with a long drive from close to the halfway line on the right flank.
After India took a 1-0 lead in the second quarter, Pakistan poured forward in search of an equaliser. The youngster Karkera was impressive in that period of play – making three excellent saves in the space of about 10 minutes. India replaced Karkera with Chikte in the goal at the halfway mark and the custodian came up with a superb save in the 40th minute to deny Pakistan.
The more-experienced Chitke was also up to the task in the final quarter when India were holding out for the close of play, knowing the win and passage to the final four as group toppers was secure.
Marijne knows the team is a work in progress
“I am happy that the team is not happy with what happened today,” Marijne was quoted as saying by Firstpost. “It’s good to see that they are not just happy winning. They want to play well too. But today wasn’t good. We needed more time to control the ball and then we started running with the ball which is not done. The boys kept the ball too long. In fact, it starts with the defence and only then the space upfront is opened up.”
Even in the big wins in the first two matches, there were enough areas of concern that emerged. But it augurs well that the coach knows there’s plenty of areas for this team to work on and improve going forward.
With nine points, India enter the Super 4 with Pakistan from Pool A. South Korea and Malaysia are the other teams in Pool B to make it to the Super 4. Clearly tougher tests await this Indian side but for now, the job has been done. The challenge now is to ensure it’s not a case of one step forward and two steps back for Marijne and Co.