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September 23, 2000
Dhillon, Menezes save the dayCedric D'Souza
One down, one to go. With this victory over Spain, India is almost in there in the semi-finals.
Saturday's match was a very close affair; it had every Indian's heart in the mouth. There was tension for all of the 70 minutes, especially in the later part of the second half, but in the end we scraped out a 3-2 victory.
Let us look at the match statistics to get a clear indication of the proceedings.
Shots at goal: India 7; Spain 10.
Penalty-corners: India 2; Spain 7.
Certainly, India gave the Spaniards a dose of their own medicine. We did what they normally do to others. We capitalised on our few chances and beat them at their own game - - their forte, conversion of set plays.
Baljit Dhillon's drag flicks from penalty-corners and penalty strokes have been a revelation. He is becoming the scourge of goalkeepers and I am sure that as he lines up, he creates some sort of tension and nervousness in defenders' minds, just like Bram Lomans and Sohail Abbas do.
If Dhillon excelled in the scoring department, it was another stouthearted display by goalkeeper Jude Menezes which helped keep the score line down. He saved four clear goals in the last 10 minutes when our defence was being pushed to the brink as Spain fought for the equaliser. He is having an excellent tournament.
The goals: India's first goal in the 19th minute came from Dhillon's penalty- stroke. It had a lot of power behind it and beat an outstanding 'keeper all ends up. The stroke was awarded after Pillay, having stolen behind Joaquim Malgosa and Usoz, was pushed by the latter after breaking into the circle. 1-0.
The equaliser, three minutes later, came from the Spanish drag flicker Xavier Ribas, who directed his flick low on goalkeeper Jude's left, beating his outstretched leg. 1-1.
India took the lead in the 31st minute. Spain, who had really pushed our defence on the backfoot, had moved up most of their supporting midfielders. Their defence too moved towards the 50. This left them susceptible to a counter attack. And this is exactly what our boys did as they got into a 3 versus 2 situation, and forced a penalty-corner.
Tirkey's hit went straight on to Jufresa's pads. The resultant rebound came straight back to him. In a jiffy, he calmly pushed over Jufresa into goal. Here the Spanish goalkeeper could be faulted for faulty padding of the ball. When logging, a goalkeeper must tilt the upper leg downwards to cushion the rebound and keep in within reach for a defensive clearance. This was not the case as the rebound flew back to the top of the circle. 2-1.
For about eight minutes after half-time we showed our best, and it was during this time that we got another penalty-corner. Dhillon flicked superbly to the right of Jufresa, who moved but could not prevent the ball from going into goal. 3-1.
The wounded matadors came at us with everything and in the 48th minute Pepe Sanchez slammed one in, after being fed by Pablo Amat. Here again, our boys were guilty of ball watching. They let Pepe receive deep in the D. Our cover defenders, although there, were beaten on the turn and should have been closer and much faster with the reverse tackle. 3-2.
In the end, we were extremely fortunate to win and collect three points despite our midfield being outplayed and defence ravaged, especially from counter attacks. Had Spain converted even half the chances that came their way, we would have been in mourning.
But all that should be forgotten now. We have to work on out drawbacks. Like controlling possession in midfield and dictating the pace of the match from the beginning. Pillay must be utilised in a more productive role up-front. He is now doing the job of provider. Being the danger man that he is for all teams, he should be upfront and not in midfield. It definitely takes the sting out of the attack and gives the rivals some breathing space.
Also, our defence must be more compact and quicker in tackling, retreating and covering.
Let us not take Poland lightly; they have nothing to lose and will come out without any pressure. We are on the threshold of a berth in the last four for the first time since 1980, when we won the Olympic gold. We have to seize the moment.
Cedric D'Souza was coach of the Indian hockey team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
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