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 February 26, 2002 | 2035 IST
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Two unforced errors proved
costly for India

M M Somaya

M M SomayaStrangely India won some admiration and sympathy with their improved turn-out though they lost all three points to South Korea.

The Indian side, sponsored by Castrol, had shown resilience and courage to fight back against Japan in the first match and eke out a point. They picked up from there, showing definite sense of purpose in their initial play and also did most of the domination, but, sadly, all this good work was negated thanks mainly to two inexplicable unforced errors.

Unforced errors at this level of the game, especially in the defensive quarter of the pitch, receive no reprieve. Once in each half, India were made to pay for this age-old malady.

Kanwalpreet Singh's interception of an overhead scoop, with a raised stick, and Sabu Varkey's loose pass near the defensive area led to the two goals for Korea much against the run of play.

Even Jugraj Singh's super strike through a penalty-corner flick on the stroke of full-time was little consolation.

It was a pleasure to watch the Indians pressurise the Koreans in their quarter of the pitch right from the word go.

The full court press was applied with the half-backs and forwards working in synergy to heckle the Koreans deep in their own half, so that India could make interceptions and wrest greater possesion of the ball.

On astro-turf this is extremely strenuous and should be applied only in short bursts. India did this well, which was the reason why Korea were subdued and not their normal effervescent selves for large parts of the match.

Another heartening feature of their play was the manner in which the mid-fielders made an attempt to receive the ball by creating space and protecting the ball in crowded areas.

A necessity to play the parallel or square ball does exist while playing teams like Korea, who have a crowded defence. India's resorting to this ploy may, therefore, appear justified to some extent and is surely a better alternative than frittering away possession of the ball.

However, the controlled passing needs to be mixed with that probing pass and the penetrative dribble to surprise the opposition at regular intervals. The Indian players did not seem inclined to do that very often.

Right-half Sukhbir Singh Gill, in particular, who is otherwise known for his penchant to attack, sat back and played the safe square pass more often than not. Hence India's chances to catch the Koreans off-guard were limited. Two long through hits that came Baljit Dhillon's way needed raised deflections by the skipper to carry it over a diving 'keeper Kim Yoon into a gaping goal. Sadly this was not to be and Yoon smothered both those attempts.

Capitalising on counter attacks when the opposition defence is in disarray is vital. India had another excellent chance when two of their forwards were faced with one rival defender to contend with.

Baljit Dhillon, who otherwise had a good game, again could not make it count. Korea did not let such a chance slip when Woon-Kon Yeo beat Jude from close after Sabu's wrong pass.

Two classy strikes by Jugraj Singh, one that rocked the crossbar and the other that brought the goal, showed what an asset this youngster could be in the business of penalty-corners. With him in form, the penalty-corner conversion rate which was one out of seven against Korea could be much better.

With five more matches to play in the pool and fifteen more points at stake, India have everything to play for.

Their next opponent, hosts Malaysia, would be coming in with their tails up having a win over Japan under their belt. But India, on their showing against Korea, should start as favourites. Their fightback against Japan and their cool composure against Korea should be used as a motivator, especially for the youngsters for whom the World Cup has been a stormy debut.

M M Somaya was a member of the Indian hockey team at the Olympics of 1980, '84 and '88.

More reports from the World Cup
Unimpressive India lose to Korea
Malaysia score first victory
Australia struggle; Poland cruise

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