India entered the Asia Cup with a fair bit of uncertainty. The old coach Roelant Oltmans had been unceremoniously dumped,their senior goalkeeper and inspirational skipper PR Sreejesh was still missing and the new coach Sjoerd Marijne was formerly the man in charge of the women’s team.
Still, if one were to go by rankings, India was far ahead of everyone else. With a world ranking of 6, the Manpreet Singh led-squad were six places higher than the next best team Malaysia. For many, that was reason enough for India to cruise to victory but the pressure of such expectations can prove to be the undoing of many a squad especially one as young as India.
However, India seemed to thrive under the pressure and finished the tournament unbeaten. Only South Korea, in the first match of the Super 4s, managed to hold them to a hard-fought 1-1 draw. They scored 28 goals and conceded six.
The opposition wasn’t great but India’s play had – for want of a better word – spirit. There are things that this team will learn with experience but winning is an experience to be cherished. It will make them stronger, it will bring them together.
- India’s Asia Cup 2017 results:
- Pool Stage:India 5-1 JapanIndia 7-0 BangladeshIndia 3-1 Pakistan
- Super 4sIndia 1-1 South KoreaIndia 6-2 MalaysiaIndia 4-0 Pakistan
- Final:India 2-1 Malaysia
In Manpreet, they have a skipper who is inspirational, who is everywhere at once: In defence when someone decides to go forward, and attacking when the mood takes him so. His energy, the way he commands the respect of his team-mates and the camaraderie he shares with them can go a long way into building this team.
“There is a reason hockey is a team game. Every time there was pressure, the players stood up as a unit to be counted. That is why we had so many field goals from different players. And Harmanpreet [Singh] and Varun [Kumar] too came good whenever they got chances. I had complete support from everyone, everyone contributed and it showed,” said Manpreet after the final.
Upfront, Akashdeep continues to remain a scourge for defences. His movement and awareness in front of goal force the opposition to constantly be aware of him. He has been India’s finest for a while now but how much better can he get?
Harmanpreet scored seven goals in tournament – six penalty corners and a stroke. He did what he was called upon but the goals were straightforward. Against the very best, variations will be needed and given that we have the World Hockey League finals starting in December at Bhubaneshwar, he will need Marijne to come up with a different plan.
“As the highest ranked side in the tournament, we were expected to win here and so this result is in keeping with our position in Asia. That it came without some senior players is a good thing because the internal competition we have now in the side is always good,” the coach said.
And that finally brings us to the coach – is he the right man for the job?
Tactically, who knows? But Marijne is motivated and knows how to motivate a young squad and bring the best out of them. Sometimes, that can become an unfathomable strength.
“We know the HWL would be different and we are prepared for it. This win is great but now we will get back and then regroup after a short break and get going for the next tournament. We hope to keep the momentum going and keep improving from here on, specially since the next one year will be a tough one,” Manpreet added.
As things stand, India now hold all four Asia titles: Asian Games, Asia Cup, Asian Champions Trophy & U-18 Asia Cup. They are the best in Asia, and truly are left with no option but to aim for the world – a world where they will need an inner strength; an inner steel. Their journey, as one is wont to say, is just beginning.