Home > Sports > Athens 2004 > Columns > Dhanraj Pillay
Down two goals was a scary experience
August 19, 2004
Before I start, allow me to congratulate Major Rajyavardhan Rathore for winning our first medal, a silver in double trap shooting. My dear Rathore, you have achieved a great feat and we are all inspired by your win.
On that joyous backdrop I am sure that the hockey team must have given you lots of anxious and frustrating moments and, above all, much pain in the 4-2 victory over South Africa.
It was the same for us too. Down by two goals in the early stages of the match was a scary experience. Even my heart could not take such uncalled for excitement, what to talk about the people out there who put so much faith in us.
But then, we were finally able to garner three points and stay in contention for the semi-final spot. Given the level of competition, it will be tough even for Holland and Australia, who found it out the hard way on Tuesday. No teams can take things for granted and will have to face strong challenge from the so-called dark horses. Although it adds much more excitement, it can also be frustrating and heartbreaking for some.
Coming back to the game, I must say that after being down by two goals in the first 10 minutes, India staged a gallant fightback. It showed that we played tenaciously and continuously put pressure on the South Africans. It was not an easy task but once we took control of the midfield, there was better cohesion amongst players.
When we went into the dressing room at the breather, there was silence and remorse on the faces of the boys. No one could believe what was happening to us. I myself must admit that although I knew we had that 35 minutes left, the frightening feeling of not being able to make it was very much there. But I shrugged off that feeling aside and continued to motivate the boys.
Once we got moving in the second half the rhythm returned to some extent. Of course, there were flaws as sometimes we could not place ourselves in the right positions to receive the passes and failed to avoid tight man-markings. After exerting much pressure we were rewarded with the goals we deserved and won the match.
In my opinion, the strategy we adopted for the first few minutes did not do any good to us. I always believed that we should play to our strength and that is attack. Players are also playing in unfamiliar positions and this does not augur well for the team. It only puts added pressure on the rest of us, as we continuously have to cover up their mistakes, some of which prove too costly at the crucial moments.
Bench strength is sometimes stronger than the playing team. This is why I believe we keep conceding early goals. The nerves of some of our youngsters need some rude awakening. A basic like trapping of ball was sorely missing. Many a times the ball seems to have deflected off the stick and they kept scrambling in search of it. We were lucky that no South African was lurking nearby to pounce on those mistakes.
Ball watching by the defence also gave us many anxious moments and reflexes were slow in clearing loose balls. Adam Sinclair and Sandeep Singh should only be brought in to give the others a breather and should not be kept in the game for long spells or at the same time.
We also cannot afford to have two of our forwards off-colour on the same day. Both Gagan Ajit Singh and Deepak Thakur, though heavily marked, were not really involved and had a subdued game. All of us have off days and I hope that they will improve fast as they are the key members of the team.
Hats off to our young goalkeeper, Adrian D'Souza, once again. He rose to the occasion and played a fantastic game. Dilip Tirkey manned the defence almost single-handedly and stood like a rock. Then there was Vikram Pillay and Viren Rasquinha who had a great day in the midfield. They controlled the middle with authority and provided timely support to the forward line.
Ignace Tirkey is a class of a player but seems to be suffering from a loss of confidence. He did not get much time on the field and failed to lift his game to the desired level.
Baljit Dhillon and I had to create the runs and the moves to get the others going. Personally, I prefer to play as the linkman, which I did after starting of as a center-forward in the first 20 minutes. There was so much lethargy in the team, and the very feeling that we played well as a unit was still not there. This is one thing that is bugging me. Imagine what we can do if we do click as a team!
We next play Australia and again we are in a do-or-die situation. Our chances of making the semi-finals will only be clear after the Australia match. So stick with us till the end.
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