Milestone man PR Sreejesh heaped praise on his teammates after earning his 300th cap for the Indian national team during the 5-0 win over Japan in the Asian Champions Trophy semifinals here on Friday.
Sreejesh was presented with a special cap by Hockey India before pushback and Sreejesh made a gesture by bowing with his stick towards his teammates as an acknowledgement.
Of the gesture, Sreejesh said, “It’s a team and what I am and where I am is because of the team. I wanted to thank them for supporting and helping me when I need them. We are all here together because of hockey.”
While Sreejesh didn’t have any saves to make on the night -- Japan had a solitary effort on the Indian goal -- he was still busy marshalling his teammates from the back in the two quarters he played.
“Goalkeepers do a lot of coaching. I am the only one behind watching the entire game. On the day, players may not be able to follow the plans we have discussed in the meeting so it’s my responsibility to coach them and guide them about what they need to do. If they get a call from me or [Krishan] Pathak, it’s to help people to get in structure in defensive or attacking mode. Even Pathak is doing that well. They hardly had a shot at goal today. The defense from the first line did a good job today,” explained the 35-year-old.
Sreejesh’s national team coach Craig Fulton had warm words for his custodian. “From the outside before joining India, I have known Sree for a long time. And for someone to get to 300 caps, it’s not normal. And at the same time, it almost looks like he has got like 600 normal caps because goalkeepers sit on the bench for a long time before they play. We are proud to have him,” said Fulton.
Looking ahead to the final against Malaysia on Saturday, Sreejesh said he and his men will not be taking the Speedy Tigers lightly.
“That was a long time ago [semifinal loss to Malaysia in 2018 Asian Games]. It’s a new tournament now. We never underestimate Malaysia. Chennai is a place where the climate matches theirs. We won’t be worrying about what they will do, we will focus on what we want to do. We are here in this tournament to focus on what we want to do. We will respect the team, and when we get opportunities, we will make them count,” said Sreejesh.
Indian team skipper Harmanpreet Singh was pleased with the win over Japan, where the team was successful in carrying out the pre-match plans. “It’s a big deal to make the final. Final matches tend to be different from the league stage [referring to 5-0 win over Malaysia]. We played according to our plan and created opportunities like what we planned in the meeting. We will be focussed similarly tomorrow that we will be strong defensively and convert the chances we create,” said Harmanpreet, who scored again from a penalty corner.
Speaking about the final, Harmanpreet said, “We will play according to our structure that is knowing when we need to hold the ball and when to attack. It will be a tough game against Malaysia. We will play based on our structure’s strengths.”
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