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New Indian Express: Back to square one ahead of home World Cup (9/1/2018)
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New Indian Express: Hockey: Back to square one ahead of home World Cup

Vishnu Prasad

CHENNAI: In most other sports, an Asian Games bronze would have been celebrated. Not in hockey. An India victory over Pakistan on Saturday may bring a brief sense of contentment, but it will only gloss over the fact that their campaign was a bitter disappointment. That too with a home World Cup is less than three months away. Against Malaysia, all of their least-desirable traits were on display. Errors — especially those under no pressure — were visible. Discipline was an issue, with the experienced Sardar Singh getting a yellow card and leaving India a man down while defending a lead in the last quarter of the game.

India again fell to a lesser opposition under pressure, like they had against New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games semifinal, England in the subsequent bronze match, and Canada in the Rio Olympics. The latter resulted in them facing Belgium in the quarters, instead of a more-manageable Spain.

Then there was the late goal, a flaw that seems to be seared into the team’s DNA. Remember the last time Malaysia stunned India in an Asian Games semifinal? In 2010. That involved India squandering their lead twice, a late equaliser from the opposition, and the favourites crashing out in extra time. Change “extra time” to “penalty shootout”, and you have Thursday’s script.

“You have to know how to finish a game,” says former national team captain Viren Rasquinha. “A team that led twice conceded. Our team is fifth, and Malaysia 12th. It is not responsible to lose a lead twice at this level. “The two yellow cards (Surender Kumar got the second) for players with so much experience is not okay. Conceding late goals against the likes of Netherlands and Australia may be okay. But not against the likes of Malaysia.”

It is a view that V Baskaran, who captained India to Olympic gold in 1980, agrees with. “Many people say Malaysia is our bogey team, but I don’t think that is the case. When you play badly, you will get punished. Top teams don’t concede late goals. India are repeat offenders.”News filtered in on Friday that coach Harendra Singh would reain in place till the World Cup in November. It is a move out of character for an association that is used to firing the head coach after every notable tournament. But how long can they keep blaming coaches, asks Baskaran.

“Did he ask the team to concede at the death? Players should accept the blame. This has been going on for long. I feel HI (Hockey India) should punish players instead of always training their guns at the coach. Players who have let the team down in the past continue to retain their places.”Rasquinha too agreed with the decision to retain Harendra, but emphasised the need to ensure the frailties exposed in Jakarta don’t show up once again at the World Cup. “The World Cup is here at home,” he says. “There is a lot of pressure and it is a very important tournament for Indian hockey. They have to now sit down and prepare for that earnestly and put this failure behind.”

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