Hockey World Cup 2018: How has the goalkeeper substitution rule worked?

The ongoing Hockey World Cup at the Kalinga Stadium here has seen several instances of the goalkeeper being substituted for a field player in closing minutes.

Action during a Hockey World Cup fixture between Ireland and China in Bhubaneswar.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

When the International Hockey Federation (FIH) brought into effect the revolutionary goalkeeper substitution rule in 2006, there was a lot of scepticism about the move. Slowly, it has become a weapon for teams trailing by a goal or two to rally in closely-contested matches.

The ongoing Hockey World Cup at the Kalinga Stadium here has seen several instances of the goalkeeper being substituted for a field player in closing minutes.

Belgium, trailing by a goal against India, replacing its ‘keeper in the final moments to build pressure and level scores for a 2-2 outcome and New Zealand bouncing back from two goals down to hold Spain to a 2-2 draw were some fine examples in the pool stage.

So, how the rule is being utilised after 12 years of its implementation?

“Sometimes you need to take the ‘keeper off. The opposition becomes conservative. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not,” said New Zealand coach Darren Smith.

India coach Harendra Singh used the ploy when the host was leading comfortably against Canada in its last pool match. Harendra said taking off custodian P.R. Sreejesh was a pre-determined move to test his team ahead of knockout matches.

According to Malaysia coach Roelant Oltmans, the rule mostly helps a side. “Sometimes it works in your direction, sometimes it works in the opponent’s direction. My experience is if you do it then you always have a chance to get one goal.”

Noted Dutch coach Siegfried Aikman, who is now at the helm of Japan men’s team, said the teams had not been able to make optimum utilisation of the rule.

“Actually it’s a huge opportunity to score, but all the teams are only dropping and not attacking. So, that’s strange. We as coaches have not got the best out of it.

“It’s the same like when we stopped the offside rule after Atlanta Olympics. It took us almost 20 years before we could play behind the defensive line because we still had in our mind the offside rule. Now it’s over.

“The goalie change rule, the same thing is happening...it’s conditioned behaviour. If you want to change it, you have to do it many many times...It will change when a generation comes and they have it. Then they will do it naturally,” said Aikman.