2006 MONCHENGLADBACH (Sept. 6-17)

P. V. SIVAKUMAR

By VIREN RASQUINHA

(Winner: Germany; Runner-up: Australia; Third place: Spain. India: 11th)

The defining moment for us came in the first match itself. We had adopted counter-attacking strategy and denied Germany any space to play their normal quick rotation game. We matched the home team move for move. We were down twice against Germany, playing in front of the home crowd, and yet both times we fought back to level at 2-2. With around 10 minutes left, the match had become an intense tactical battle. We took command despite being reduced to 10 with defender Kanwalpreet Singh on the bench with a yellow card.

Shivender Singh even struck the post, else we would have surged ahead. In the last minute, the Germans switched the ball from their right defensive zone to left flank and sent a cross, whizzing into our circle. Christopher Zeller, who emerged the most promising player of the tournament, swooped in and deflected the ball into goal with 20 seconds left for the hooter.

That was the defining moment for India, and for me it was one of the heart-breaking moments. Four goals came in the last 13 minutes of a see-saw match played at terrific speed. We never really recovered from that body blow; we slid into mediocrity and finished 11th. Germany went on to become the World Champion.

Christian Zeller (right) of Germany celebrates with team-mate Sebastian Biederlack after scoring against South Africa in a group match Zeller was adjudged the most promising player of the tournament.-AP

After that initial hiccup against India, the home side simply went from strength to strength. Another key match for them was during the group stage against fierce European neighbours, the Netherlands. The Dutch were leading 2-0 in the first half itself and were on course for an easy victory. The Germans were somewhat seemingly out of sorts in the first half. This match was very crucial as both were fighting for a spot in the semifinals.

Germany was a transformed side in the second half. It fought back tremendously to overpower the Dutch and equalise 2-2. The crucial point snatched put paid to the Netherlands’ hopes of a semifinal spot. Germany has always been known to play a programmed tactical hockey and the 2006 World Cup was no different.

Remarkable was Germany’s outstanding team work, mental strength and self-belief. All these qualities were witnessed in abundance during the final against Australia. Germany was down 1-3 with hardly 15 minutes left for close. It then effortlessly went full throttle to swamp the Aussies with three goals in front of a raucous home crowd.

(As told to Nandakumar Marar)