Statistics are tricky business in sports. They tend to glaze over the effort on field or the numerous variables that matter in a result. Sometimes, though, they expose the grim reality of a competition.
On Monday night, the gap between the teams was highlighted after India's 2-0 loss against Germany to finish at the bottom of Pool B. At the end of its last league match in the Hockey World League Finals here, the host had a meagre 36 percent possession and 10 shots at goal. In contrast, the opposition had 64 per cent ball and even though only six shots at goal, it made every one of them count.
The numbers supplemented the performance on field. The one-touch give-and-go hockey that India wanted to play was displayed by the Germans instead. Their second goal came off one such move, four passes and a rasping shot from an unmarked Mats Grambusch rising off Birendra Lakra’s stick into the net in a matter of seconds.
Structure, the favourite term in the Indian dressing room at the moment, continued to be on a leave of absence.
India’s favourite mode to relieve pressure, the aerial diagonal long pass, was intercepted and resulted in turnovers. The short passes the team switched to as an alternative could not find a way forward. The attempts at earning penalty corners ran into a firm German wall. It was still better than the previous outing, in patches.
The defence picked itself up. Akash Chikte brought off some impressive saves. Lakra kept getting better and Manpreet Singh kept falling back to bolster it. The waves of German attack were unable to overwhelm
them or find too much space. The forwards, indisciplined and clumsy as they were, did manage to get into the circle but were out of position. And also missed the finishing touch – the final pass being the culprit many times – and were thwarted in equal measure by German goalkeeper Tobias Walter and the uprights.
Every time India got the ball in the opposition half, it elicited a huge roar of support from the packed stands, only to fizzle out. The back-ups were just not there even as India failed to optimise the space utilisation. As for the Germans, they only reiterated their resolve to go back with yet another trophy from the city where they won their last gold medal, three years back, with a near-perfect execution of their gameplan.
Earlier in the day, the rivalry between Australia and England regardless of the filed of play ensured there would be no quarters given and ended in a 2-2 draw with the momentum swinging either way throughout the game.
Barry Middleton admitted as much, referencing the ongoing Ashes to highlight his own team's intent to “pull one back for England” here.
It almost did so but Australia came up with perhaps its best performance of the tournament so far for its third draw in as many games. Liam Ansell tapped in an early goal but Dylan Wotherspoon and Blake Govers fought back for the defending champion.
It took a special effort by captain Phil Roper to level scores and, despite four back-to-back penalty corners at the stroke of full time, Australia was unable to break past the English defence. The results meant Germany topped Pool B while India brought up the rear ahead of the quarterfinals.
The results (Pool B): Australia 2 (Dylan Wotherspoon, Blake Govers) drew with England 2 (Liam Ansell, Phil Roper); Germany 2 (Martin Haner, Mats Grambusch) bt India 0.
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