Bhubaneswar, Dec 14
What a battle! What atmosphere! Harendra Singh’s men gave their all against giants — in reputation as well as stature — of the game. In a stadium that could have resembled the Colosseum, with a crowd that was bursting with nervous energy, the Indian players fought their hearts out.
The Indian warriors, fighting till the end, desired more. The crowd, cheering till the final hooter, deserved better. A hockey fan, though, couldn’t have asked for more — what atmosphere, what a battle, and a deserving victor. Well! Not according to the losing side. After the on-field battle ended, Harendra and captain Manpreet Singh went on a tirade against the umpires. The warriors, who roared on-field till the last second, brought their fight off the field. Only now, they sounded more like sore losers. “I would like to tender my apologies, we haven’t given what we had to,” Harendra said. “I am not going to stop today. If they (umpires) don’t want to improve, this type of result we will face. We’ve lost two major tournaments this year (because of umpiring).”
“They need to improve. We have lost two major tournaments. Then the public asks, why Indian hockey is not improving,” fumed Manpreet.
The two trained their guns at the international federation (FIH). “99.8 percent of the referrals go in favour of the players. Are you there to officiate the umpires? They are hoping the player will go for a referral,” said Harendra.Manpreet moaned about the futility of lodging an official complaint. “What is the use? We’re out of the tournament,” Manpreet almost screamed.
The captain and coach couldn’t contain their anger, until they were asked to assess their own performance. “In patches, I am satisfied,” Harendra said. “Overall, I say that Holland played their game.”
Not only did the Netherlands play their game — the Dutch were all over India in the second half — they decided to only assess themselves. “The team with the most chances wins the game. We won the game. That’s the bottom line,” Netherlands coach Max Caldas said. “In the end, the umpires didn’t play the game. We never discuss umpires because they just don’t matter.”
The way the Netherlands played, especially in the second half, they didn’t need to look at the umpires. Expecting the match to be a “tough battle”, Caldas’ men started with a lot of energy. But India managed to keep pace with the Dutch, even if they struggled to keep possession. The passes weren’t reaching the men, the ball was skipping over Indian sticks. But the frantic pace didn’t help the Dutch either.
They also showed a hint of nerves. Both teams pressed high, but the Dutch were more successful in harrying India. They did, however, let an Indian player occasionally sneak through their net; and it led to dangerous attacks. But both teams defended impressively in the circle — until India earned their first penalty corner in the 12th minute. Akashdeep Singh, lurking around the penalty spot, sliced in a rebound to send the crowd into a frenzy. But the lead didn’t last – Thierry Brinkman sneaked in front of his marker to deflect in a long ball.
The pace settled down in the second quarter, which didn’t see much excitement. But it was words from the coach that helped the Netherlands take almost total control. “We spoke about holding the ball for longer. The first half we played a running game, which suited the Indian style,” Caldas said. “In the second half, we wanted to play the passing game. We didn’t sacrifice our speed… but we held the ball and made them chase the game,” he added.
That laid bare the tactical gap between the two teams. While Netherlands reduced the number of turnovers, India still gave away the ball. While in the first half, India’s mistakes didn’t lead to counterattacks because the game stopped on most occasions, the Dutch got more counter-attacking chances in the second half. India’s strategy to attack too directly, thus losing the ball quickly, didn’t help them either. “Because of our attacking style, sometimes when we have the ball, we get too anxious to move forward. We should hold the ball as well,” Harendra said.
India could not find their feet in the game. But they must be credited for keeping the Dutch out despite being pushed up against the wall. The Netherlands got five penalty corners in the second half, one of which got them the goal, through Mink van der Weerden.
India had 10 minutes to find an equaliser, but they suffered a setback when Amit Rohidas received a 10-minute yellow card in the 53rd minute. For Harendra, that was a match-turning moment, for which he criticised the umpire.
Belgium get past Germans
Belgium put up a dominant performance against Germany, though they didn’t have the best of starts — they gave Germany too much space and got punished when an unmarked Dieter Linnekogel struck from the centre of the circle in the 14th minute.
But the usual Belgium side, with their zonal defence working in unison, started the second quarter. They starved the Germans of space and expanded their presence in the field. Three minutes later, Alexander Hendrickx fired in a low drag-flick to give Belgium the equaliser. The Red Lions found their groove, while the Germans were making too many uncharacteristic mistakes. They were hurried into small errors in passing and receiving. Germans running with the ball is unheard of, but that’s what happened on many occasions because they just couldn’t pass the ball around. They barely stayed in the match until Tom Boon squeezed the ball into the goal under the goalkeeper.