Just over two months ago, the Indian men’s hockey team had thumped Poland 10-0 at the Azlan Shah Cup. On Friday, against the same opponent with largely the same side, the Indians fumbled, and stuttered to a 3-1 win in Pool A match of the FIH Hockey Series Finals at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubanewsar.
The unbeaten Indian team is now assured of playing the semifinals. That would be of little comfort to coach Graham Reid, who had warned against letting the focus drop against a defensive Poland. The opponent lived up to its reputation but the Indians did not.
Friday’s match was all about erratic passes, wayward shooting and messed up defence. The first warning sign came within 30 seconds of start, Poland earning a penalty corner but unable to convert, much to India’s relief. Given the resolute defending it did, an early lead might well have led Poland to park the bus in its half.
As it happened, the Indians found it difficult to break past the Polish defence even otherwise. And when they did, they came up against Maciej Pacanowski, the Polish goalkeeper who staved off half a dozen chances including two back-to-back shots from Simranjeet Singh and Akashdeep Singh.
READ | INDIA 3-1 POLAND - As it happened
India could also manage to convert only one of its five penalty corners and the forwards – Gursahibjit Singh, Akashdeep, Mandeep and Simranjeet – just could not manage to get their shot angles right. Ramandeep, playing more of a feeder, managed to set them up repeatedly, only to see the ball rolling away before Manpreet Singh managed to lob in a rebound after Harmanpreet Singh’s attempt.
Poland stepped up to attack and Mateusz Hulboj made no mistake in tapping in the rising ball to level scores. Hardik Singh was the culprit and Krishan Pathak completely blinded and out of position.
The Indians managed to stick to their structure better in the second half but the basic errors in trapping and passing continued to haunt the side. If improvement and process are the focus for Reid going ahead, the Indian team would do well to regroup sooner than later. Japan or South Africa – the likely opponents in the semifinals and the final – would be tougher.
In another Pool A match, Russia seemed to come out keen to avenge its drubbing against India and slammed 12 goals against a hapless Uzbekistan. Khakimboy Khakimov scored the lone consolation goal for the minnows. Pool B saw Asian champions Japan stretched by Mexico before prevailing 3-1.