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V Bhaskaran

Adrian saved us the blushes

August 24, 2004

India have failed completely to learn their lessons from the Sydney Olympics, where they finished seventh, and therefore the script does not read much different at the Athens Olympics.

The Indians played Argentina in a win or draw situation on Monday to avoid the wooden spoon and finally settled for a 2-2 draw to escape the worst situation. The depleted Indian side, without the services of William Xalco and Deepak Thakur, played under severe pressure due to the poor show by Harpal Singh and Ignace Tirkey and the entire deep defence.

Even the marking was below par as in the first 10 minutes India conceded two penalty corners. Again, it was a sterling performance from goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza, who came to India's rescue by saving the two corners taken by the irrepressible George Lombi, which saved the day for the team. All his saves were of high standard and the draw was possible only due to the good performance of D'Souza.

In the first half, one felt the forward line did not exist at all in the Indian team. Even the ever-agile Baljit Singh Dhillon was looking tired and found wanting many times during attack. However, Argentina were also not at their best as their poor run in the previous games had rendered them a disjointed lot.

Their poor mental state helped our mid-fielders enjoy ball possession and one must admit that Vikram Pillay and Viren Rasquinha played some good hockey throughout the game. Arjun Halappa, who also had a good day out in the field, ably supported them. Towards the end of first half, Vikram stole the ball from the rival defence and played it to Dhanraj Pillay who quickly returned the pass to Vikram. Vikram made a reverse pass to the unmarked Gagan Ajit who beat Argentina's goalkeeper to give India a 1-0 lead at half time.

India held on to the lead upto the 53rd minute during the second half when the Argentine forward line penetrated the Indian defence by resorting to short passes from the middle of the field. One such move saw Harpal Singh fumbling in checking the ball and committing a foul, which resulted in a penalty corner to Argentina. This time Matias Vila beat the Indian goalkeeper to make it 1-1.

Thereafter, the two teams did not show any hurry or hunger to go all out in search of a goal. But thanks to some spirited display from Viren, Vikram and Halappa at this juncture, the complexion of the game changed as the trio tried to break through the rival defence with some fast moves. 

From a good interception, Halappa outwitted the rival mid-fielders and made a neat pass to Dhanraj who skirted the defenders and rolled the ball to Gagan Ajit who made no mistake to give India a 2-1 lead in the 61st minute.

Everyone thought India would keep the lead but the defence lost control of the game after captain Dilip Tirkey and Adrian D'Souza got injured and left the field. Their absence led to defenders committing mistakes and in the dying minute, they once again conceded a penalty corner. Vila once again scored the goal to make it 2-2. Again, it was the same old story of losing the script in the dying minutes.

Fortunately, South Africa were not close to India on the points table and the Indians managed to qualify to play for the 5 to 8th positions. The management should now look only at the task ahead and prepare the team fully for the next two games, which are as important as semi-finals. The players must get their act together, put their best foot forward leaving behind the disappointments of the past.

In fact, they should start afresh and strive to finish in the top six at least which will not only boost the team's confidence but also help it gain entry to the Champions Trophy and all other major tournaments.

If we fail to do that, I am afraid Indian hockey would have to be given a serious relook. There should not be any excuse for not being able to finish among the top six. Hopefully, the team would fight as one to achieve this goal and salvage some pride.

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