Thursday, June 5, 2014

India log first point in World Cup, hold Spain 1-1

Recovering from late-goal defeats is never easy – it can often pound your morale, especially when you have suffered such a fate in two consecutive games. But the 8th ranked Indians surmounted all the blues of the first two games, exuding plenty of resolve to rack up their first points of the 2014 World Cup, playing out an intensely contested 1-1 draw against 10th ranked Spain.

There was much at stake s both teams were vying for the first win of the tournament, and it was Spain who held sway in the early exchanges before India started feeling their way into the game.

Spain’s first penalty corner opportunity was foiled by Vokkaliga Raghunath before India looked good inside the opposition half, where Mandeep Singh was heckled by Sergio Enrique, leading to a penalty stroke being awarded. Rupinder Pal Singh converted it in the 28th minute to give India the lead before Spain gave the Indian defence the jitters equalizing through Roc Oliva on the stroke of half-time.

Spain maintained the pressure in the second half even as the Indians were pinned in their own half. The inability of the Indians to clear the ball swiftly came to the fore as one foray from Spain led to more raids in the Indian ‘D’.

Coach Terry Walsh has been frugal with his rolling substitutions, but it hardly explains why the likes of Gurbaj Singh, Lalit Upadhyay and Yuvraj Walmiki are not getting longer stints on the pitch. It can’t be a case of Walsh not reposing much faith in these guys, but in the interests of the team he must make the most of the rolling substitutions as our forwardline hasn't functioned at all.

SV Sunil – the team’s most experienced striker – continues to struggle and yet keeps his place on the pitch, which is difficult to fathom. Even Dharamvir Singhm, save for his equalizer against England, hasn't shouldered the responsibilities of a senior striker. On Thursday, he missed a sitter, which could have been the match-winner. Clearly, the Indian forwardline sorely lacks a spearhead who can take the other guys along with him.

Penalty corner conversions – age-old problem for Indian hockey – seems to show no improvement as India muffed up all three short corners against Spain. Whether its injection, stopping or drag-flicking, either one of them messes it up and ensures Indian PC woes are overflowing.

India can at best hope to fight for 5-8 placings, and for that to happen India have to beat Malaysia and fare well against defending world champs Australia. Anything less than a top-8 finish will be extremely disheartening for Indian hockey fans – hardly a vindication of the efforts the national team have put in for the World Cup.

In other men's games, Australia beat Belgium 3-1 while England downed Malaysia 2-0. In the women's section, the Netherlands humbled New Zealand 2-0, Australia pipped Belgium 3-2 while Korea played out a goalless draw with Japan.

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