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Mervyn Fernandis

India pay price for schoolboy errors

August 16, 2004

Images from Sunday's matches

India's 1-3 defeat to The Netherlands in their opening match of the league phase of the Olympic men's hockey tournament was more or less on expected lines. The margin of defeat would have read like a tennis score in favour of the defending gold medalists had it not been for some excellent goalkeeping by Adrian D'Souza.

Indeed, the Dutch could not have asked for a better start when young defender Sandeep Singh, still in his teens, fumbled with a clearance at the top of the circle in the third minute of the game. It gave them the first goal on a platter. Martens Eikelboom had the easiest of tasks of scoring.

Gagan Ajit SinghBut I thought the Indians came back strongly after that early reverse and it was to their credit that they conceded just one penalty-corner in the first half. In fact, it was they who were the first to force a penalty-corner but Dutch goalkeeper Vogels luckily saved Sandeep Singh's powerful drag flick. Had India scored from that penalty-corner things could have looked different.

A little later Sandeep was rightly replaced having lost possession in the danger zone. It was obvious the young lad was unable to handle the pressure. After all, it is his first major tournament

If Sandeep was the weak link in defence, William Xalco and Adrian stood out as did captain Dilip Tirkey, Viren Rasquinha and Vikram Pillay. Harpal Singh too gave a good account of himself though someone will have to tell him to be more careful while tackling inside the circle, as he tends to get too close to the attacker and concedes soft penalty-corners.

Before the game, the Indians must surely have gone in with the strategy of conceding fewer penalty-corners against Holland, and I think they achieved that end and even handled them well. Teake Takema, the specialist, was able to convert just one and it was only after the Dutch had taken a 2-0 lead.

The Dutch were well-served by Ronald Brouwer, Floris Evers, Eikelboom and Teun De Noijeur. These four were the fulcrum around with the Dutch attacks evolved. With smart passing they used the long ball on many occasions to rattle the Indian defence.

In fact, the Indians must take a cue from them and use the flanks to enter the circle. They need to rotate the ball. Trying to go into the circle from the middle will get you now where. India had at least four good breaks but in trying to go through from the middle found their forwards being crowded out.

Baljit Dhillon and Prabhjot Singh looked totally off-colour and just could not get into a rhythm. Dhanraj too struggled and would be upset with himself. Was he overanxious to do well? Gagan Ajit Singh was the only forward who had the maximum tries at goal and that's why he was rewarded with a goal in the dying minutes, that too from a penalty-corner which reduced the margin. 

In sum, one can say the Dutch were gifted victory. India paid a heavy price for errors a player commits only as a schoolboy.

India plays their next game against South Africa, who upset the fancied Argentineans 2-1 in their opener. That victory would have surely increased their confidence levels, and they are likely to give the Indians a tough time. With Holland, Australia and South Africa all taking full points from their opening matches, the pressure is now on India.

The Australian and South African players were in the stands watching India's opening match and must surely have made notes of the areas to exploit when they take on the eight-time Olympic champions. The Indians must overcome their shortcomings, else it will be another disastrous campaign at the Games.

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Mervyn Fernandis represented India at the 1980, '84 and '88 Olympics. He also captained India at the junior World Cup in Versailles, France, in 1979.

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