Disappointed with the bronze medal finish at the Asian Games, ace drag flicker Sandeep Singh on Sunday said that the Indian hockey team was the best in the quadrennial event but lack of video referral system deprived the team of a well-deserved victory against Malaysia in the semi-final.
India had defeated arch-rivals Pakistan in the league phase and defending champion Korea in the bronze medal play-off.
The Rajpal Singh-led team lost to Malaysia through Muhammad Amin Rahim's golden goal in the semis despite leading 3-2 till the 67th minute. Amin had earlier converted a penalty corner to equalise.
The former captain, who scored the highest number of goals (11) in the tournament, echoed the sentiments of chief coach Jose Brasa in condemning the standard of umpiring.
"After watching the videos of the semi-final we realized that the penalty corner, from which Malaysia scored their third goal, should actually have been a hit in our favour. The ball hit the foot of a Malaysian before it touched Gurbaj Singh. Similarly we deserved a penalty stroke at the last minute. It was poor umpiring which put us out of the title contention," Sandeep said.
"India was definitely the best team in the tournament. We had defeated Pakistan and Korea. We were better than other teams in all departments of the game," he said.
The ace full back was playing in his first Asian Games and wanted to give his best.
"I could not play Doha Asiad and the World Cup in 2006 due to the unfortunate bullet injury. This was my first Asian Games and I wanted to be part of the gold-medal winning team.
"My personal aim was to score the maximum goals and my conversion rate was more then 75 per cent. I am happy with my performance but not winning the yellow metal will haunt us for a long time to come," he said.
Asked about how the team members lifted their morale after the semi-final loss he said, "We wanted to win at any cost to finish on the winning note."
"We were disappointed (at the loss) but we wanted a podium finish. A medal is a medal and bronze was still there in our hand," he added.
Sandeep has not thought about the Olympic qualifiers as yet neither he thinks that the tragedy of losing the last qualifiers will add additional pressure on the team.
"I had not played the qualifiers in 2008 but I am sure that there will be no additional pressure on the team. If we continue the rhythm, we will win the qualifiers and play in the London Olympics in 2012," said Sandeep.
Sandeep, however, declined to comment on the issue of renewal of coach Brasa's contract which is expiring on November 30th.
"This is between Mr Brasa, SAI and Hockey India. I would not like to comment on it," he said.