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September 26, 2000
'This is the hardest moment'
Indian captain Ramandeep Singh was shaking an hour after the biggest prize of his career had slipped out of his hands. Beaten by a body feint that wrong-footed him and gave the space for Polish striker Tomasz Cichy to slam home the equaliser, Ramandeep said this was "the hardest moment" of his career.
"We were so close...I can't believe it," said the dejected Ramandeep.
Medio Baljit Singh Saini said that the feeling in the team was upbeat after the win over Spain and now suddenly everything came crashing down.
"The team started feeling we very within striking distance of making the semifinals, but that was not to be," Saini said.
Saini too said this was the hardest moment of his career, even tougher than the loss to Australia in the final of the Junior World Cup where he was the captain. India had dominated the final, but only to lose by one goal and were left with lingering memory of two penalty strokes denied by umpiring lapses.
Ramandeep said they took this match seriously, but were thwarted in the first session by 10 men packing the Polish half.
"No way were we taking them lightly, not after the way they played against Spain and Argentina," he said. "But there was no extra pressure on us from the must-win situation.
Saini said the boys were not overconfident, but the feeling of having almost made it would linger for long.
"No one said a word after the match, all were sad as everybody would be in this situation," he said.
Coach Vasudevan Bhaskaran's eyes conveyed it all. Dejection was writ large on his face, he did not blame the pouring rain but was pondering what else could the team have done.
"Its disheartening," Bhaskaran said with a heavy voice. "The boys came so close and still failed to make the semifinals.
"We knew we had to get a win and we had our chances but could not score enough goals. We missed the maximum number of goals in this match.
"It wasn't our day. We should have qualified more confidently. We created chances but did not score. Even in the last one and a half minute we had three shots at goal after conceding the equaliser."
Bhskaran said there was no question of India having a curse of unorthodox teams.
"It was not a question of doing well against quality teams and failing against the unorthodox ones. We tried everything possible to open the game after Poland packed its defence with 10 players in the first half."
Bhaskaran said Dhanraj Pillay was tightly marked by two defenders and he had to pull him back to open up the game by sending Gagan Ajit Singh up-front.
"But nothing produced the desired results...the goals never materalised," he added. "But we have two more matches to play and the boys will try to salvage the best position out of these."
Finishing among the top six will clinch India a place in next year's Champions Trophy, which they have been denied since the 1996 edition was played in Madras.
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