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September 17, 2000
More possession play neededCedric D'Souza
Amidst all the skepticism and superstition that has been floating around about our past track record, where we have come a cropper in the opening game, our team came out firing on all cylinders and broke the jinx, polishing off Argentina by three goals.
Although we did give away a lot of possession in the first ten minutes, thereby unnecessarily inviting pressure, the team lived up to claims of attacking from the word go, as was stated by coach Bhaskaran in his pre-match statement.
As in 1996, when we broke the Argentine defence time and again in the first quarter, this time too we were all over their defence, but the main difference is that we scored.
Argentine coach Jorge Ruiz, perhaps, summed up today's defeat correctly. "The team played better today than in the opening match against India in Atlanta four years ago, where we won 1-0. The Indians also played well in Atlanta, but our defense was good. We played better today but ended up losing; that is fate," he said.
The two yellow cards meted out to Carlos Retegui, in the 21st minute, and Jorge Lombi, in the 54th minute, which left Argentina (on two different occasions) with 10 players, saw India brilliantly cash in and score on both occasions.
My analysis: From a statistical point of view we were not in the picture for the better part of the first 25 minutes. Our midfield gave away the ball far too easily, without making the Argentine players really fight for it. We were fortunate that they did not capitalise on that early ascendancy.
Goalkeeping: Jude Menezes displayed the skills that are not normally associated with Indian 'keepers. He showed poise, confidence and class as he held the fort, saving numerous flicks from penalty-corners that came like thunderbolts at him. Whether it came to the left or the right, he anticipated beautifully and saved with aplomb. Full credit must go to him for his stupendous performance.
Our defence: It did give away far too many easy fouls that led to penalty-corners. Fortunately, Argentina was not able to get the ball past Jude from them.
Dilip Tirkey and Dinesh Nayak must hold their sticks firmer as many a time the ball deflected/ricocheted off them. Also, they should adopt the basic stance of a defender who does not want to concede a penalty-corner - - keep your feet behind the stick and not expose them to the opposition.
Midfield:Our linkmen were too impatient in the first-half and did not really settle down. They needed to move the ball among themselves, and let our forwards create the gaps before releasing up front. Impatience and releasing the ball early without our players being in position was the reason why Argentina held so much dominance for the first 25 minutes.
However, there were some plus points. Like Thiruvalavan's closing down, and Baljit Siani's attacking and defensive skills.
Our forwards must learn to keep possession when in their 25-yard line. By just passing the ball with the hope that it reaches one of our own is not the right approach. If we do keep the ball with us then we will not be susceptible to counter attacks. When we have the ball in the circle along the back line (zero-angle) we must try and earn a penalty-corner. We had at least five opportunities like this and earned just one penalty-corner, the first one created by Dhanraj.
We need to have more penetrations and more men up front in the circle when we are crossing the 25. Players have to move behind the defence to permit our ball carriers room to fire themselves or pass. And then, there needs to be a concerted effort when it comes to re-tackling and closing down when possession is lost.
The goals: Without taking any credit from our players, the Argentina defence did not play like they usually do. The gaping holes that they left was uncharacteristic of their play.
Goal number 1: Carlos, the Argentine right defender, was shown the yellow card just when we earned our first penalty-corner. This caused some turmoil in the their penalty-corner charge as Carlos is their right side second line of defence runner. The penalty-corner drive by Tirkey was deflected by goalkeeper Pablo's outstretched stick, and fell behind their second line of defence, to an unmarked Samir Dad. Samir, who was the penalty-corner pusher, had moved inwards for the rebound and when the ball came to him, he had the presence of mind to pick up the rising ball, a la Tendulkar, and smash it to the roof of the net.
Where was the Argentine second line of charge? For me, they were far too high up, leaving the pusher fully free. A bad tactical blunder.
Goal number 2: Pillay played a square ball to Baljit Dhillon who carried the ball up-front with no one closing him down. He then passed to an unmarked Mukesh, who had moved to the left. Mukesh had the easiest of tasks to slam home.
I must mention here that when Dhillon was carrying the ball, it was Samir Dad and Pillay who moved deep into the circle behind the defenders. That really created the gap for Mukesh. Great stuff!
Goal number 3: Argentina earned a free-hit on the left in their 25. They broke the cardinal rule any defender should know. They played the ball from the left pocket towards the circle, with a few of our forwards lurking around. The ball was deflected by a lunging Dhillon, who tried to anticipate the pass. It bisected the entire defence, landing in the path of Samir Dad on top of the circle. Dad, without waiting, adjusted his body and drove home.
The main plus point of this victory was the fact that the team was able to put aside their fears and inhibitions of the past and believe it could win.
Bhaskaran's statement that there is still room /scope for improvement goes to show that the coach is not going to rest on this victory. His strategy worked to a nicety today; now he must plan and prepare the team for the sterner tests ahead. As always, I wish him and the team every success.
Cedric D'Souza was the coach of the Indian hockey team for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
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