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India gave Germany a run for their money

January 09, 2004

As expected, the experienced German team won their first match against an experimental Indian team by a 3-1 margin in the 13th Azlan Shah hockey tournament in Kuala Lumpur.

When the team for the tournament was announced, surprisingly, some of the known names, like Dilip Tirkey, Gagan Ajit Singh, Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh, Bimal Lakra and Viren Risquinha were missing from the list. Many wondered why on earth is the Indian Hockey federation experimenting with younger players when the Olympic qualifier is just a couple of months away. Some of the other teams in the tournament, namely Pakistan, Spain and Malaysia, who will are also be playing in the qualifying tournament in Madrid in March are more or less at full strength at the Azlan Shah. But the only reason for experimentation at this stage, I feel, is to identify youngsters who are good enough to graduate to the senior side for the forthcoming Test series against Holland and the Olympic qualifier.

Goalkeepers Kamaldeep Singh, Adrian D'Souza and full-backs William Xalco and Sandeep Singh are strong contenders to make it to the senior squad. The other full-back in the team, Harpal Singh, was a surprise omission in Thursday's starting line-up against Germany. He had impressed one and all at the Afro-Asian Games, his maiden senior tournament, in the absence of Kanwalpreet Singh. A good showing in the Azlan Shah will certainly boost the chances of these youngsters making the senior squad.

Thursday's match against Germany showed that the youngsters in the side are here to stay. Despite their inexperience of playing at the senior level, the Indians fought pretty well and the scoreline does not give the right indication of Germany's superiority. In fact, they gave Germany a run for their money.

After a couple of quick goals in the first seven minutes from Bjoern Michel and Florian Kunz, which gave Germany a 2-0 lead through penalty-corner conversions, in the first seven minutes of the game, it was the Indians who took control of the proceedings. That saw them reduce the margin (1-2) through the 18-year-old Sandeep Singh.

Sandeep is rated very high by coach Harendra Singh. For an 18-year old he has a lot of power in his drag flicks and be the penalty-corner specialist India is looking for. The lad will have to vary his execution if he has to make an impact in this tournament.

Down 1-2, Dhanraj Pillay, Baijit Dhillon, Sandeep Michael and Tushar Khandekar strung together a few good moves and were rather unlucky not to have levelled the score. In fact, from one good move, there was a deliberate infringement in the Pakistan circle against Sandeep Michael, which warranted a penalty stroke. Instead, a penalty-corner corner was awarded.

Later, in the second half, Germany converted yet another penalty-corner through Michel to make it 3-1. It was a powerful drag flick that beat goalkeeper Kamaldeep Singh comprehensively. 

Though Kamaldeep conceded three penalty-corner goals he was good on confidence and brought off a couple of very good saves.

Late in the game the Indians forced three penalty-corners but were unable to   convert them into goals. In sum, the 3-1 margin of victory was rather flattering for Germany, the World and European champions, who played with a near full-strength team. Had India's forward line been a little bit sharper, the story may have been different.

India play Pakistan tomorrow. Sohail Abbas will be the key factor, unless the young Indian defenders keep the penalty-corners away like the Koreans did in their match against Pakistan. One thing is for sure: the fans can expect yet another entertainer as always provided by these two very skilful Asian giants.

  • 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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