Unimpressive India lose to Korea
India's hopes of making the semi-finals in the men's hockey World Cup suffered a huge setback after they went down 1-2 to Korea at the National stadium, in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, on Tuesday.
The defeat cost the 1975 champions their fifth point, and unless they come up with something extraordinary in their remaining matches and the form book doesn't play true, they are out of the reckoning.
The Koreans, who won the silver medal at the Sydney Olympics, registered their second successive victory in Pool B.
In other matches in Pool B, Malaysia beat Japan 1-0 and Australia got the better of England by a similar margin.
After the 2-2 draw against Japan in their opening match of the tournament, one expected a much better performance from Cerdric D'Souza's team. In fact, they raised visions of one as they did start off well. But the initial flourish, which saw them call the shots in the first quarter, was not enough to create an impression on the Korean goal.
Like against Japan, the urgency and purpose was missing. The midfield flopped yet again. Baljit Singh Saini looked out of sorts as did Thirumalvalavan. In sum, the inabilitty of the duo to hold possession and strike up a rhythm with the forwards proved India's undoing.
Perhaps things may have been a bit different had India got a goal early in the match when they made inroads into the Korean circle. They should have been a goal to the good in the fifth minute itself from their first penalty-corner, after Sabu Varkey and Dhanraj Pillay broke through, but young Jugraj Singh had ther mortification of seeing his drag flick hit the cross bar with goalkeeper Keon Wook Kang completely beaten.
A minute later, India forced another penalty-corner, but the Korean keeper brought off another save off Jugraj's flick.
The early ascendancy almost bore fruit in the 13th minute, when Varkey essayed a diagonal into the circle for Baljit Dhillon. However, the Indian captain was foiled by the Korean 'keeper who charged out to clear the ball.
And much against the run of play it was the Koreans who struck in the 20th minute from their second penalty-corner, after India's goalkeeper Jude Menezes had saved Soek Kyo Shin's try from their first two minutes earlier. Woon Kon Yeo's drag flick found the corner of the net. 1-0.
The Koreans thereafter used the width of the field to good advantage and relied on the sudden break. And even when the Indians did manage to splinter through, they had the numbers in defence to cut off any threat.
A goal down, a fightback was expected from the Indians in the second session. But, sadly, there was no sense of urgency in their approach. Had Jude Menezes not effected good saves -- one a minute after the restart and off a penalty-corner a minute later, India may have lost by a bigger margin.
In the 66th minute, the Koreans made sure of full points when they scored from a counter attack. The Indian defence looked laden footed as Woon Kon Yeo found space on the left flank and laid a diagonal pass for Seong Tae Song to tap past an advancing Menezes. 2-0.
India made a late charge -- if one can call it so -- in the last five minutes and Daljit Dhillon was was unfortunate to be thwarted by the Korean keeper at the cost of a penalty-corner in the 68th minute. With time ticking away Jugraj Singh stepped up to the top of the circle to take India's seventh penalty-corner. He flicked hard and true to reduce the margin. 1-2.
India coach Cedric D'Souza said his side now has to go for a result in their remaining five group matches.
"We had our chances today and we blew it, he said, adding: "It is not over until the fat lady sings. We came here with an objective and we will carry on trying to win every game."
India meet Malaysia next on Wednesday.
Mail Sports Editor