India stuttered, was pushed to the brink of exit, recovered and won a solitary match to get into the World Cup quarter-final – their best result in the tournament in 40 years. The last-eight contest against Ireland – the tournament’s most captivating team – went down to the wire. After playing out a goalless draw in regulation time, the teams’ nerves, toughness and goalkeepers were tested in a shootout that were to determine which one of them were going to make history. Ireland were playing for their first ever semi-final spot. India were vying to get there for the second time in 44 years. But on all three counts, Ireland were the better side. As the Green Army celebrated, the Indians – despite displaying remarkable resilience – were crestfallen after the 1-3 defeat.
“When you lose in shootouts, it’s very disappointing. It’s better to lose in regular time,” coach Sjoerd Marijne tells Scroll when we caught up with him for the first time after the World Cup. But the team now, he says, is proud of its result.
“They (Ireland) defended really well. The defence was one of the key ingredients for their runners-up finish,” he says of Ireland’s run to the final. “I have always said that the best defending sides have the biggest chance to win titles.”
He talks more about India’s campaign at the World Cup and its preparation for the Asian Games in Jakarta, starting on August 18.
Before the World Cup, you’d said that reaching the quarter-final was your primary target. The team managed to do that. But they seemed to have a great chance to go further into the tournament. Was this an opportunity missed?
Absolutely. We did create history [by finishing in the last-eight since 1978]. But the history could have been bigger. That’s why we are disappointed. It’s important now to leave this behind and focus on the Asian Games.
Talk about the penalty shootouts against Ireland in the quarter-final. What did you tell the team after the regulation time?
We train over and over. So, I needn’t say anything. The thing is we missed the first one. And, then, there was more pressure on the other ones. That’s something we have to deal with. And, they hadn’t experienced this before the tournament. So, it’s important that we faced this problem and see how we dealt with it.
In the second half against England and the match against Ireland, the team seemed to be low on energy in some of the key phases. Was this a mental thing?
One of the reasons was the pitch – not many people know that. There are no excuses to give. But all teams had problems with it. The pitch was extremely heavy, it was bumpy. If the girls did three-four sprints, they could really feel their legs. I spoke to the other coaches. And, they had the same problem. Sometimes it looked like we didn’t have the energy. But that wasn’t the case always. It was really difficult to score goals because it was difficult to get speed in the ball. That’s why a lot of penalty corners didn’t go in – because it was difficult to get the ball on a good spot from top of the D with a lot of speed. You have to adjust – we did that very well and I am happy with that.
How much of an impact did Rani Rampal’s ankle injury have on her performance?
No big impact. She could play a lot. It didn’t hamper her game a lot.
India had 87 circle entries, 46 shots on goals and just two field goals. Finishing seems to be a cause of concern...
Yeah. But it wasn’t a problem for India alone but an overall problem. And, one of the things was that the pitch was slower... and the teams are further back and you sometimes have 10 defenders in the circle. So, it’s difficult to find a space to score a goal. Why things happened, for me, is very clear. We also have to look at the circumstances. And, we weren’t the only team struggling to score. Only Holland scored a lot of goals. They were a few steps further... but the rest of the teams struggled.
HIGHEST GOAL SCORERS
In the Asian Games, do you think they need to be more aggressive?
No. You always have to be realistic and see what was the situation. Yes, we must score more. But I don’t think it’s only about not being aggressive. It’s more about positioning. And, if we have better positioning inside the circle, we will score more goals.
Are you happy with the penalty corner conversion – three goals out of 20 PCs – this tournament?
Of course not. As I told you, it was difficult to get speed in the ball. The pitch didn’t work for that. So, I know that was what happened. And, things will be different in the Asian Games.
Talk about the defence. India conceded just three goals in five games.
If you see, we were the best defending team of the World Cup and we are proud of that. But we needed to score at least one… or at least make our shootouts count to go to the next round.
Defending is discipline and discipline is good. It was well organised. You see the big countries – the ones that are winning the medals, men or women, have good defence and good PC conversion. And, if you have good defence, you can create more chances. For me, it doesn’t work the other way around, wherein you create a lot of opportunities but no good defence. I was happy with that and the next step is to create more – which we will do at the Asian Games.
Just a few days to go for the Asian Games. What are your areas of focus?
To be honest, I can’t focus on anything. There’s a function from IOA tomorrow (Friday). I have to send players there. We already have to go on Sunday. Because Monday there are functions. So, functions are more important at this moment than preparations.