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September 28, 2000
India lose to Great Britain 2-1The Rediff Team
With nothing at stake, India played out its classification match against Great Britain in second gear and, predictably, lost.
"Nothing at stake", however, is a superficial assessment. There are no medals at stake, true, but there were other issues. Pride, for one. Placings, for another. A win here would mean that India would play for the 5th and 6th places --- whereas a defeat would have them playing for 7th or 8th. And there is, surely, a great deal of difference in being 5th in the world, and coming home 8th?
You wouldn't think so, judging by the way the team played. In a reprise of Atlanta, the Indians seemed to have lost their equanimity after the much-hoped-for semifinal berth eluded them.
India in fact made all the right moves before the match began. Ramandeep Singh, Mukesh Kumar, and Mohammad Riaz were all rested from the starting lineup. Ramandeep had a series of defensive blunders in the earlier games; Mukesh appeared to be playing more to showcase his stick skills than to help the team score goals; and Mohammad Riaz was pretty much a passenger in midfield all along.
Dhanraj Pillay led the side out -- a last gesture for, and towards, the man who has led the Indian attack for 11 years now. But Dhanraj has, throughout this tournament, been forced to play withdrawn forward, in order to help shore up the defence, and that was true in this game as well. One would have thought that with India out of the medal round, Dhanraj would have been given his head and allowed to roam free in the rival D, taking advantage of the no-offside rule and putting pressure on the opposing defence, but that was not to be.
Britain -- which, incidentally, is yet to lose an international hockey match to India on astro-turf, controlled the game in the early stages, playing possession hockey inside their own half, moving up gradually, and making a few viable tries on goal before India, against the run of play, forced its first penalty corner off a breakaway run by Dhanraj.
Dilip Tirkey converted with a clean hit, holding on to the ball for a split second, allowing the British defence to charge, and then cracking it at an acute angle into the right corner of the goal. The goal came in the 10th minute of play.
A minute later, the Indian goal came near falling when a nifty passing bout ended in Danny Hall taking a crack at goal from the right flank, only for Jude Menezes to bring off a good save. But it was Britain making most of the running, and their aggression paid off in the 16th minute when, taking a leaf out of the European style book, they swept the ball up the left flank, pulled the Indian defence out of position, switched it to the right and placed Craig Parnham in perfect position to slam home. Jude Menezes, to the shot from point blank range, managed to get a glove onto it, but couldn't keep the ball from richocheting into goal.
From there on, play got a bit patchy, with much mid-field scrambling and very few top-flight moves on display by either side. Calum Giles, used as a penalty corner specialist, came in to take two successive tries in the 19th and 20th minute, but found Menezes in the way both times.
A brilliant run by Dhanraj in the 27th minute, taking the ball inside his half and racing into the opposing D after selling the dummy to three British defenders, resulted in an illicit check forcing the penalty corner, but this time, Tirkey's hit was off target.
Deepak Thakur off a breakaway move had a good opportunity to score from the field in the 32nd minute but again, haste and a badly-directed hit resulted in India going in to the break with the score level at 1-1.
The second half pretty much reprised the first. Britain enjoyed the greater possession, Britain took more cracks at goal than the Indians (11-8 overall), and generally outplayed a lacklustre Indian outfit. As in the first half, it was India who forced an early penalty corner, but Sameer Dad's hit went way off target.
In the 46th minute, Britain forced the penalty in its turn, after a concerted foray into the Indian zone; Calum Giles came out to take the hit, and this time, he was on target, sounding the boards with an angled strike to put Britain ahead.
What followed was a classic display of possession hockey as Britain kept its cool and India lost its collective head. Tempers frayed, play became scrappy, the normally phelgmatic Baljit Dillon was shown the yellow card for a needless foul and compounded his sending off with an equally needless argument with the umpire, and India played the remaining 14 minutes a man short.
Mukesh Kumar was sent in as a substitute, but the only incident worth noting was when he took a shot at goal off a Sameer Dad cross and, instead of hitting the ball, hit a British defender's stick and broke his own while the ball rolled away to safety. After going into the lead, Britain settled down to tap the ball around among themselves, holding on to possession, not giving the Indians too much of an opportunity to mount raids, and generally shutting out the match.
India forced two successive penalty corners with just a minute and a half of play remaining, but with Dillon away from the field of play, the British defence could predict with a fair degree of accuracy who would take the flick, and shut out the angle on the first. In a bid to spring a surprise, Dhanraj took the second, but the goalkeeper closed down his angle and the Indian skipper could only lift over the bar.
For the record, Britain had 11 field tries to India's eight, and converted one to India's none. On the penalty corner front, India had five to Britain's four, and both sides converted one apiece.
Dhanraj's frustrations showed when, once the hooter was blown, he marched up to the umpire to argue Dillon's sending off. An official from the Indian camp had to come out and lead the disgruntled Indian star away.
India has one more game to play, against the losers of the second qualification tie between Argentina and Germany, to determine the 7th and 8th places. And from where we sit, it is all beginning to look like Atlanta revisited -- one glitch in the league phase, out of contention for the semis, and a complete lose of composure in the relegation playoffs.
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