When Kenny Bain sprinted down the right flank and with a deft turn made Kothajit Singh feel like a bumbling teenager, one thought it would be a highlight in Scotland’s play against India in the Pool B opener of the Hockey World League Semi-finals stage.
It didn’t end there. Bain showed the temerity of striding into the Indian striking circle, sweetly time a perfect cross which two defenders and the Indian goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya could only see streak past them onto the waiting stick of the Scottish captain Chris Grassick. The placement was perfect. Scotland to the shock of many led 1-0 in the 6th minute. By the end of the 1st quarter with Scotland holding a vice like grip on the proceedings, a sickening familiar pattern was emerging. India not only had started on the wrong foot. They were making tough work of a team they honestly, with due respect to Scotland, should have killed in the first two quarters.
Rattled at the back, in two minds while clearing balls or passing up front, Scotland sensed the nervousness of a team that was ranked 17 places in front of them; India is at six with Scotland on 23. The gap in terms of numbers was yawning. But on the pitch, Scotland played like a top six team. India did all they could and they did more; exactly the wrong thing at that stage. Instead of holding the ball and making the Scots come to them, they went for the Scots and when a lower ranked team is a goal up, they play with fire and a surety that pleasantly surprises not only their fans but also the coach in the dug-out Derek Forsyth.
The Scots coach got the team together after the 1st quarter and ensured that errors were few and reliance on the counter-attack more. Indian coach Roelant Oltmans would later say that India played into the hands of the Scots. But in a match with four quarters, you not only get breathing space, but enough breaks for the coach to change tactics and show the team where they were going wrong. Scotland had two chances to increase the tally but the defence though shaky managed to keep India alive. Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Talwinder Singh had chances but Scottish goalkeeper Alexander - no Greek King - definitely showed his maturity. India’s best chance came in the second quarter. Akashdeep picked up a Ramandeep pass and went past two before releasing a shot that had goal written all over it. Alexander out of nowhere deflected it off his gloves. Scotland were surviving. India were like a pack of herd trying to get out of the wrong pen they had found themselves in.
To the relief of India, the break after the 2nd quarter gave the Indians the time to rethink. Vikas Dahiya had been replaced and Akash Chikte was brought in. The goal that went past Dahiya could have happened to anybody. But Oltmans didn’t want to take chances. Later, he would say, “I will play Dahiya again. It’s not his fault. The defence was also responsible. Goals happen to goalkeepers too.”
A minute into the 3rd quarter saw Ramandeep trap a cross on the left side of the Scottish striking circle. With a defender on his right side, Ramandeep turned the ball over and with a brutal reverse hit from the top of the circle beat Alexander in goal. It was a stunner that broke the Scottish resistance. Three minutes later, in the 34th minute, SV Sunil threaded his way in from the right flank and crossed. Ramandeep deflected it in. India now led 2-1 with two goals in four minutes. “I was very happy with the goals because it came of team work,” said Ramandeep. Scotland now defended in numbers. India had stretched the Scots across the pitch releasing space. In the 40th minute, a terrific cross from Indian captain Manpreet Singh sped in and Akashdeep deflected it in for the third goal. India now had the Scots by the scruff of their neck and were threatening to over-run them. In the 42nd minute, India earned their first penalty corner and Harmanpreet Singh fired in a powerful flick. At 4-1, Scotland needed a miracle to try and stop the Indians.
Ramandeep Singh said something very interesting after the match. “A tight defence makes you win tournaments while goals scored from forwards make you win matches.” Manpreet echoed the same sentiments. “The first quarter we were under pressure,” said the Indian captain. “It does happen and we did try and get the equalizer. But as the 2nd quarter finished, we kind of got desperate and made more mistakes.”
Indian coach Oltmans was upset with the Indian defence for allowing the Scots to score the opening goal. “It came out of nothing,” said Oltmans. “I have to admit that the Indian defence was relaxed and too reluctant to go and close the zones down. But we will learn from here and keeping playing to the patterns that we have trained for.”
With a day off for the Indian team on Friday, the upcoming matches are tough; against Canada and then Pakistan. And such a dip in form in two quarters cannot be repeated. “The first two quarters were difficult,” says Manpreet. “Defensive structures do win matches. But it was good to get those goals.” The best thing about winning against Scotland was that the forwards raised their level and scored goals. It’s a matter of belief that India despite giving territorial advantage to the Scots fought back to take away the initiative. Speaking on the next two matches, Manpreet said, “There is no pressure against Canada or Pakistan. We need to win matches if we want to advance in the tournament.”
Mandeep Singh would be disappointed that he didn’t get onto the scoring sheets. In the first two quarters, he did have some sharpness of movement but then faded away to come back in the 4th quarter. But on some days, strikers do take an off. Coaches and players love that blips in a tournament come early than later. Against Scotland, hopefully, India would have ironed out the flaws and strengthened their minds for the tougher battles ahead.
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Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 12:12:14 IST