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September 22, 2000
Wanted: A solid midfieldCedric D'souza
With the loss to Korea, the pressure is on. Let us hope it does not get to our boys, for they can easily make it to the semi-finals.
Before I go into the pre-match plan versus Spain, I would like to clarify and apologize for the faux pas that I made in my last article vis-a-vis the points position. We are all aware that all the teams have to play two more matches. Which means every team has a chance as of now. But to ensure a semi-final berth all have to win their remaining matches. I did mention that if Spain and Argentina win both their matches, they will reach 10 points. However, this is not the case, as the maximum points they can garner is eight. Oops, I goofed! If any of you can recommend a good maths teacher, who is willing to coach an old coach, please let me know.
Another point worth mentioning is that should any two among Australia, Korea, India and Poland (the top four in that order), get maximum points in their remaining fixtures, then Argentina and Spain will not make the semis. India and Poland can get to a maximum of 10 points and Korea and Australia 11. However, if there are draws among the four teams, then there is no guarantee which team will qualify; then any of them could make it.
We can go on speculating "if this" "but that" etc, but let's leave it at that for now and keep our fingers crossed.
The core group of this Spanish team constitutes the development programme that FIH master coach Horst Wein started in the eighties with the Spanish hockey federation. These players were taught the rudiments of hockey to a nicety and really came of age at the 1996 Olympics. Although they have not lived up to that promise, they are still an extremely dangerous team.
They are a team with skills and artistry seldom seen in European teams. Tough without big names, the team is balanced and have some skillful players in Xavi Arnau, Juan Escarre and Pablo Amat. They play to a plan and are solid in defence, which is backed by goalkeeper Ramon Jufresa, probably the best in contemporary hockey, and Joquim Malgosa, their most experienced player, who is the oldest in the tournament.
As we have seen in their recent matches, the Spaniards are good man-to-man markers. They have the capacity to soak pressure for long periods without crumbling and then attack. Their set-plays and variations during penalty-corners can prove devastating.
Free hits are another area in which they excel in. They can move the defence with a hit from outside the circle and find a narrow gap for a last second tap-in.
So what does India have to do?
The midfield must be solid. It needs to settle down from the word go and then turn on the pressure, like it did against the Aussies. Joquim Malgosa, the man I had mentioned earlier, is who we have to concentrate on. He is the chink in their armour. Although he has years of experience, he is extremely slow on the turn and whilst retreating. Move him around, especially if we do some off the ball running.
Spain's danger men are Pablo Amat, Xavi Arnau and Juan Escarre. We have to block them out. While their strikers carry the ball, their midfield will also move up in support. That will leave gaps and our boys need to exploit them by keeping two players (preferably Pillay and Mukesh) around the 50 yard line all the time, ready to pounce on counters and also to exploit Malgosa's pace.
Penalty-corner defence: We have to watch out for their slip ball to Xavi Arnau -- which is passed to the left of the halter for the deflection, and the small dink by Juan Escarre over the prostrate goalkeeper who logs for a direct hit.
Till now Pillay has been doing a primary role of assisting the midfield. He has done it well. We have to beat Spain, so he needs to be more up front. Switching of the game can be done more effectively if we make Pillay or Mukesh run diagonally forward when our midfielders have the ball. This will ensure that their central midfielder and links move back to help in defence, giving us ample space to change the point of attack.
Once again, I wish to stress that there must be no more ball-watching. It cost us valuable points against Korea. Our boys must tackle and stay as close as possible to the attacker and meet him when he receives the ball.
We are capable of beating Spain. There is not doubt about that. Only we have to fire on all cylinders.
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