Playing as a goalkeeper for the Indian team, AB Subbaiah was part of the 1998 Asian Games gold medal winning side. He has been feted with the Arjuna Award. He spoke to Amit Kamath.
I was India's goalkeeper in the 1994 World Cup, which was held in Sydney. What a memorable tournament it was!
We had a great team consisting of players like Dhanraj Pillay, Mukesh Kumar and Mohammed Riaz.
Our preparation for the World Cup was also excellent. The 1994 World Cup was one of the first coaching assignments of Cedric D'Souza and he had prepared the team really well. I remember that a lot of players came from either Mumbai or Karnataka at that time.
While most of our other coaches used to train us by working on our strengths, Cedric was the one who made us prepare by focusing on our rivals' strengths and tactics. Cedric had a technical style of coaching which involved studying other teams. It was a modern style of training which helped us prepare for each and every situation.
We played some great hockey against the best teams in the world. That tournament saw us register wins over South Korea and Belgium in the group stage. We also had close matches against Germany and the Netherlands.
It was a great team and we had done very well but one unfortunate thing was the 2-2 draw against South Africa in the league stage. That proved to be the difference between us and Germany in qualifying for the semi-finals. At that time, just two teams from the group were to qualify for the semis.
I remember that after our last group match, we had to wait for the match between the Netherlands and Germany to end to see if we could qualify. They played out a draw, which led some of us to feel like they had an understanding.
But there were a few things which proved to be our undoing in that tournament. Against the good teams in our group we performed really well, but against an under-rated team like South Africa, we were a little slack in our approach. That was probably because we were focusing on the bigger teams in the tournament. When you play at an event as big as the World Cup, you have to prepare equally for each opponent however big or small it is.
What also hurt us was a misplaced pass by Shakeel Ahmed when we were up 1-0 against Germany. The Germans capitalised on the error, stormed into out D and equalised!
Another memory that sticks out from that tournament is the goal the Netherlands' Taco van den Honert scored against me in our group match. At that time, players would whack or slap-hit the ball towards goal in penalty corners. But when the Netherlands played us, Taco drag-flicked the ball into the top right corner. It surprised all of us! It was the onset of the era of drag-flicks.
What also went against us was that one of our most prominent forwards, Sabu Varkey, was not available during the tournament. If he had played, he would have been a livewire at the front and the results would have been different.
Eventually, we could not qualify for the semis and had to play Argentina in the playoffs for the 5th to 8th position spots. We won that match in an exhilarating tiebreaker. We beat them comprehensively! At that time, finishing 5th and 6th was commendable because it also meant that the team would qualify for the Champions Trophy. So, on one hand, we were happy, but on the other hand, we felt that since a lot of young players had come from the junior team, so we could have done really well in this tournament.
And then we beat England for the fifth-sixth position match which made it a memorable tournament for us. Finishing fifth at that tournament was not that bad because it was just one step away from the semi-finals. We were unfortunate to miss the chance in that way. But what was more unfortunate was that at the Atlanta Olympics two years later, we again missed the semi-final cut narrowly like that.
That was what teams need to realise! We were good enough to make it to the semis at the 1994 World Cup. But it was just because of one underrated team beating us in one match that we missed out.
Updated Date: Dec 02, 2018 19:18 PM