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 February 25, 2002 | 1530 IST
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India need change in game plan against Korea

Just a day before India opened it's campaign in the World Cup here, coach Cedric D'Souza told the Indian media: "Judge the team after they have performed against Japan. This is a vastly improved side."

If improvement was the key word, the basic factor by which one judges teams, then it was Japan that looked the improved side. And going by the way the Indians played, this is going to one hell of a tough World Cup. Unless they pull up their socks and go out on the turf to prove a point or two.

Looking at the drawn result positively, as D'Souza says, the best thing for the team was to pull back from a two-goal deficit and salvage a point.

0-2 down in the second half, it seemed curtains for the Indians. Not that they couldn't play out for a win or a draw but the manner in which this talented side was playing didn't inspire many.

Not a single player was playing as a unit. None of the flanks knew where the strikers were and even in defence Jugraj, who had been given the job of holding away the Japanese forwards, messed it up when it came to Ozawa Kazayuki.

The speedy Japanese forward was strolling on the top of the circle when he found the ball on his stick. Yet, not a single defender went up for a tackle and Ozawa found the space to advance by almost two strides and beat Jude Menezes with a rasping drive.

Can India afford these mistakes against sides like Korea and Australia? Surely, not against Korea, who they meet on Tuesday, in what is a crucial tie for the Indians.

Even the Koreans were lethargic in their first match against Cuba -- they were 1-2 down at the break. But they had enough class in them to come back and wipe the smiles off the faces of Cubans with a 6-2 demolition job.

Kim Sang-ryul, who took Korea to the Olympic silver medal and then resigned and became coach of the women's team, is back as assistant coach of the men's team. After watching India play Japan, he felt India didn't play the right game.

"Japan is a hugely improved side but India should have been different," he said. "India is very good but against Japan it was not the right game in that situation."

Kim refuses to elaborate much. But former Indian coach V Bhaskaran was of the view that India didn't settle down. "Sabu Varkey, Pillay and a few other players need to settle down as they are the playmakers," he said. "So there was a need for them to hold onto the ball and slow the game down in the midfield. But we were just too eager to get on. I think that's where we made a mistake."

Though D'Souza defends his decisions of making fast substitutions. "It was the need of the hour," he said after the match. "Our game plan wasn't working so we needed to get players out and talk to them. The situation demanded it."

Will the Indians improve from here and get on with the job of winning the big games? Korea has been a handful, and except for the Asian Games in 1998, when India beat them for the gold medal, they haven't lost to India.

In the Sydney Olympics, they beat India tactically, holding on to the ball and not letting the Indians get into a rythmn. Song-Seung Tae, who scored in that 2-0 win in the Olympics, is still as dangerous as ever, and with players of class, like Kim Jung Chul, Seo-Jong and Yoo Moon-Ki, the Indian defence will have to do something special. India really can't experiment against a side like the Koreans. Give them an inch and they would make any side suffer for that.

If there is a winning card for India against the Koreans, it is their forwardline. Time and again, India has beaten them on speed, skills and a relentless onslaught of crosses from both the flanks. At the same time, seeing that they didn't counter-attack too often.

In the second half against Japan, India started with Baljit Dhillon, Deepak Thakur, Dhanraj Pillay and Prabhjot Singh and that should be the starting line-up. Pressure has to be on the Koreans and the Cubans showed their vulnerability in defence.

India need those three points to go ahead in Pool B. A win against Korea would give it four after gaining just one against Japan. The semi-final slots could be decided on goal- difference and wins are now priority for India.

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