Soon after India played out a 1-1 draw against pre-tournament favourite England, coach Sjoerd Marijne could not decide whether to be happy about earning a point or losing two.
The Dutchman would have taken a point any day if he was offered it before the start of this Women’s Hockey World Cup opener and hence set his team up to first limit the damage and then try and hit the opposition on the counter.
And if not for that one mistake which resulted in an equaliser seven and half minutes before the final hooter, the game plan almost paid off.
Marijne spoke about how some of the girls were left sobbing at the end of the match, wondering what would have been had they not made that mistake.
Credit is due where it is due. The team showed resilience, fighting spirit and never say die attitude despite England building up the pressure after conceding the first goal. Custodian Savita Punia was excellent under the bar for the entire hour, making half a dozen excellent saves.
But a closer look at the stats and performance analysis would show that the English women were profligate inside the striking circle. Had they been more clinical with their shots at goal, India would have been under pressure.
Match of two halves
Given the strength of this English team, which formed the core of Great Britain’s Rio Olympics winning squad, it was imperative that the Indians first strengthened their defence and then look for goals.
Rani Rampal and Co had successfully used this strategy during their comeback 2-1 win over their opponents in the group stage of the Commonwealth Games and were clearly successful in achieving the right balance in the first half of the match in London on Saturday.
The pressing of the midfield to break the English attacks meant that India created enough opportunities to score a goal in the first two quarters, even prompting the commentators to say that the first quarter belonged to the Indians despite their circle entry stats reading 7-4 in favour of the hosts.
It was a similar situation in the second quarter as England made eight circle entries while India managed just five. But, the latter showed more purpose while going forward. The hosts, meanwhile, were left looking for penalty corners as they were not allowed much space in front of the goal.
However, after Neha Goyal drew first blood for the Indians with the easiest of tap-ins, it all went south. Marijne spoke about pressing higher in the second half to stop any chances of an England comeback but the team surprisingly sat back and let the hosts build pressure.
There is no denying that England skipper Alex Danson’s inspirational display clearly raised the bar for her team as she made darting runs from the right flank and dribbled past defenders to earn penalty corners at will.
The mounting pressure notwithstanding, the Indian team’s tactics of just hitting the ball out of danger and again regrouping for another wave of attacks was baffling. A 1-0 lead in hockey is hardly a defendable margin given the pace of the game and it was imperative that the Indians looked to counter attack.
But India managed just one circle penetration in the entire second half but could have still walked away with a win had Lalresiami managed to convert that only chance into goal.
Instead, England responded by withdrawing their goal-keeper with eight minutes left on the clock to add an extra player to the attack. And even though Lily Owsley’s equaliser came through the team’s ninth penalty corner only because the defenders failed to clear the ball well after Savita had stopped the first shot cleanly, the move clearly showed how the host had managed to peg back the Indians in their own half.
Need more midfield creativity
While the entire team defended as a unit in the last 30 minutes, the mid-field was clearly missing when the ball was under Indian control and despite the pace of Deepika and Vandana Kataria, there were no attempts to form a counter-attack.
It may not be right to compare this match to the one in the Commonwealth Games group stage as India were trailing at the start of the second half and hence pushed many more bodies forward to find the goal. But the Indian think tank can definitely look at the ways the team counter attacked and build the pressure and be a bit more creative going forward.
With Ireland upsetting USA in the group’s other game, India knows that only two clear victories can take them directly to the quarter-final spot. This means that the Indian side needs to find ways to score more goals and that can only happen if their are more circle penetrations and penalty corner opportunities. Otherwise, a fighting display and a disciplined performance would hardly mean anything in the final analysis.