Controlling a match has rarely been Indian hockey's hallmark. But the discipline and authority displayed in the 3-0 result against Canada showed that this could become the new normal. The Canadians came into the match on a high, after beating Pakistan 6-0; a result as shocking as the gameplan by Pakistan. But by the third minute of the first quarter, Canada realized that another upset win would require some real work in the midfield.
Any chance of an upset was gone when India played up, almost bull-dozing the Canadian midfielders to turn into part-time and then full-time defenders. India let go an early penalty corner but SV Sunil gave India the lead in the fifth minute with a deft placement.
Canada were rattled early as India controlled the ball with Harmanpreet Singh, Chinglensana Singh, Surender Kumar and Manpreet Singh rotating waiting for the right openings as players in the midfield and forward line did some effective off the ball running. Ramandeep Singh was all around the Canadian striking circle thus creating space for Akashdeep Singh and Sunil.
In the 10th minute, Ramandeep found space and squeezed in a through ball from the top of the circle. Akashdeep, with a defender behind him, saw the Canadian goalkeeper David Carter advance. That was enough for Akashdeep to deflect the ball past his pads. With the score 2-0, Canada was searching for options; the Indians were not giving away any loose balls.
Though, an India-Canada match has never risen to any sort of great rivalry, a few defeats in the 90s had given fillip to the Canadians. In the '98 Utrecht World Cup, Canada beat India 4-1. At the post-game press conference, coach had Shiaz Virjee, said, “I think that this is the greatest day in the history of men's field hockey in Canada. The result is a boost to field hockey in our country!”
After the thrashing of Pakistan, one wouldn’t have put it past the present coach Paul Bundy to think on the same lines. In the last match played between both the nations at the Rio Olympics, Canada had held on to draw the match 2-2. In the process, India had lost points and probably a semi-final spot as they met a strong Belgium side in the quarter-finals. But in the three matches previous to the Rio Olympics, India had won 3-1 (Azlan 2016), 5-3 (Azlan 2015) and 3-2 (2012 Olympics qualifiers).
By the end of the second quarter, India has missed two penalty corners. But the side was combining well with forwards racing into empty spaces, keeping the Canadian defenders busy. The result was that attacks from Canada dried up. In the first two quarters, Canada penetrated the Indian striking circle five times while India ravaged them 10 times. Time and again, Sunil on the right flank and Chinglensana on the left created moves that had the fans in the stadium applauding. In the midfield, Sardar, Harjeet, Manpreet cut down the errors and patiently controlled the moves.
The move of the match came in the 18th minute, in the second quarter, when Ramandeep seized the ball, almost at the half-line and sprinted through. He was followed by Sardar and then Sunil running parallel. Such was the speed that the Canadian defenders fell away and just when one thought that Ramandeep might try and take a shot, he beautifully played a deft pass to his left where an overlapping Sardar pushed into goal. It was a classy Ramandeep move finished off by Sardar.
At 3-0, Canada seemed finished. India were dominating the flanks and the midfield, and suddenly the fluid moves displayed by Canada against Pakistan were something of the past.
If there was an area of concern it was the conversion of penalty corners. India had five and Harmanpreet was not on the pitch for two of those. Yet Jasjit Kular and others should have converted.
There was an indirect conversion but Manpreet’s blazing shot went past the post. On one occasion, Chinglensana’s reverse hit rebounded off the post. Canada had two penalty corners and Vikas Dahiya,who played the entire match, showed pluck to advance and take the flicks onto his gloves.
Indian coach Roelant Oltmans was happy with the performance. “It was what I expected from the team,” he said. “They held the ball and controlled the game. We had studied the Canadians and had always told the team that Pakistan might have lost to them but they had more penetrations. So we had to be careful. For me every match is important in this tournament.”
By the end of the third and fourth quarter, India had slowed the pace of the match down. That was Canada’s best spell in the match as Gabriel Garcia, playing his 100th match, combined and came close to scoring with Floris Son. A few melee’s ensued but Dahiya showed superb presence of mind to clear the ball to safety. Canada, looking for a consolation goal couldn’t get any.
Sardar, happy that he was on the scoreboard, said the reason for India not playing with the same intensity in the fourth quarter was that knowing the match was a closed affair, they decided to kill off the pace. “We also have a match on Sunday against Pakistan and it is better to relax rather than go for more goals,” explained Sardar.
Against Canada, India now have played 37 matches, winning 26, losing seven and drawing four. Being in sync is always critical and against Canada, the Indian team got most of it right.
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Updated Date: Jun 18, 2017 11:59:44 IST