Jakarta: India scored 76 goals in their five pool matches, a world record of most goals by a team in an international hockey tournament. Such was their dominance at the Asian Games men’s hockey here that they even subbed their goalkeeper for an attacker in the final stages of two group stage matches.
On Thursday evening at the GBK Hockey Field here, India were shocked as Malaysia came like a bolt from the blue. With 90 seconds to go and trailing 1-2, Malaysia snatched the equalizer off a penalty corner and then ousted India in the penalty shootout, sending the defending champions out of the gold medal race.
High performance director David John, who watched the match from the stands, said “India still doesn’t know how to score in pressure matches.”
“We have scored 73 goals [sic] so far up until before this match. It was very disappointing today and I think the team still doesn’t know how to score under pressure. 73 goals are nice but they were scored against relatively smaller teams and today was what mattered and they couldn’t score,” said John.
“The direct chance of qualifying for the Olympics is gone and it is quite disappointing. We still have to learn to win on the big occasion,” he said.
India have had a topsy-turvy year so far. A no-medal show at the Commonwealth Games led to a change at the top with coach Harendra Singh stepping in to replace Sjoerd Marijne.
There was a marked improvement at the Champions Trophy in Netherlands, wherein India won silver medal. The Asian Games defeat here will hurt India for a long time.
They knew this was their best chance to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and will now have to play the qualifiers next year.
“The Commonwealth Games wasn’t what we were focusing on,” says John. “The team did well at the Champions Trophy in [Netherlands] reaching the final and gave Australia a strong fight. But what really mattered this year were the Asian Games. We were here to win it and that hasn’t happened.”
‘I don’t think changing the players is going to help’
John highlighted three areas that India needs to work ahead of the World Cup at home now.
“If you ask me, I think it is the penalty corner conversions. We have been struggling to get going on that. You all saw the women’s semi-final yesterday and Gurjit Kaur scored off that one chance that took them to the final. The men haven’t been able to do such things.”
“Second, it’s the defensive structure that requires work and more consistency. Overall, as a team we are not consistent.”
“Third, we need to cut down on silly errors and need to have more discipline on the field. Today, two men (Sardar Singh and Surender Kumar) were out with cards in the crucial part of the match and teams punish you for that. We cannot be having this at this level and these are all teams ranked below us,” he said.
John added that the team might require a psychologist to travel with them on tours in future to fetch better results.
“We have psychologists who are doing great work with the players at the camps but perhaps we need to have them on tours as well. We will think about it,” the Australian said.
He, however, ruled out any major changes in the team.
“I think we did just fine blooding some youngsters this year. Dilpreet Singh, Simranjeet Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Harmanpreet Singh, they are all doing fine. I am happy with the exposure they have got here and I see a great future for them.”
“I don’t think changing the players is going to help. Maybe one or two but overall they are all doing well.”
Asked if India can take back any positives from this tournament, John however was at a loss of words.
“May be the experience that the youngsters got was one of them,” he said after a long pause.