In a match where all the excitement came down to the last seven seconds, the Indian hockey team’s perennial problem of conceding late goals left them with a disappointing 2-2 draw against arch-rivals Pakistan in the men’s Commonwealth Games opener in Gold Coast, Australia on Saturday.
For India, Dilpreet Singh (13th minute), Harmanpreet Singh (19th minute) did the scoring, while Pakistan’s goals came from Mohammed Irfan Junior (38th minute) and Mubashar Ali (60th minute).
The match was touted as the blockbuster clash of the preliminary stage and the turnout, at least, lived up to the hype. The diaspora of both the countries was out in good numbers but adding to the fervour were the Australian fans, who showed up to just soak in the excitement of an Indo-Pak clash.
Talking after the match, coach Sjoerd Marijne did not speak about the refereeing decisions but chose to focus on the team’s poor performance instead. The Dutchman said his team was unrecognisable and committed plenty of basic errors.
Excerpts from his interaction with the media after the match:
On what went wrong for India...
Marijne: Today, I didn’t recognise the team I have been coaching for the last five months. This happened once in the HWL Final against Germany where the level was low, and there were strange decisions. And that’s also what you saw today. The structure wasn’t good enough, [doing] difficult things, too much individual play. Maybe it was because we were playing Pakistan but it could also be because we were playing first match of the tournament. It is how it is, we cannot change the result. We now look forward to the next match, tournament is not finished. Of course we are not happy with the level of performance today but the players are even more disappointed than me in themselves. We have to use the knowledge from this match - why did it happen? That’s the most important thing.
On whether the “strange decisions” were from the referee...
Not talking about the officials. I didn’t see the clips back. I thought we scored a goal at the end, and it’s finished, 3-1. But I didn’t see that [the end] and I don’t know if I am right.
Were the Indian team nervous?
If it was nerves, it could look like we were too relaxed. We have worked towards this match for one month and a half and we were ready for it. We had to wait for a while in the tournament, but I think it’s too easy to say we were relaxed.
Were India too defensive in the final quarter?
When the team is not playing as well as we can play, we had to go back to our basics and that’s our 50-press. WE had some moments where we pressed more, but in the fourth quarter we had one yellow card. So it was normal we went back [defensive].
What are the areas to improve for India?
If you see this match, it’s about basics, about hard work. About doing the easy things right. It was a bit of everything-or-nothing today.
Pakistan played well or did India play poorly?
We let Pakistan play well but not putting in our best performance. Absolutely not.
Where does his Indian team go from here?
First, I want to watch the clips with the team. I want to have feedback from the team themselves, what did they feel, why did this happen. That’s really important for me. Because the gameplan was clear, but still they lose their head. Maybe it was against Pakistan, but we played them twice in Asia Cup and did well, so it can’t be just that.
(More to follow)