Golden moments for Korea and China

S. THYAGARAJAN

THE Busan Games men's hockey competition - that slipped into a chronicler's diary to be told again and again for posterity - was dramatic, sensational and memorable. That the gold was decided two minutes before the final hooter underlines the keen tussle of the competition.

The jubilant South Korean men's team.-V. SUDERSHAN

But there will be a note of disappointment, for India not ending up as the champion again, notwithstanding the magnificent fightback after conceding as many as three goals. If only, pray repeat, if only, Jugraj had refrained from that body tackle of Korean hockey icon, Seung Tae Song, on the fringe of the 25-yard line, thereby forcing umpire Murray Grime to signal a penalty corner, what course the match would have taken will remain in the realm of a fascinating guess. Perhaps, the power with which India attacked at that point, to make it from 0-3 to 3-3 kindled hopes of a victory, or at least the possibility of stretching the match into the golden goal period or tie-breaker.

Crying over split milk carries us nowhere, but there is a realisation that India has come back into the international reckoning. There is satisfaction over the second victory in three meetings with Pakistan in about a month. This semi-final contest too was one of the best witnessed in recent years. As the FIH President, Els van Breda Vriesman, exclaimed the goal, the match-winner of Gagan Ajit Singh as "one of the best seen" in international hockey. That match had everything, passion, drama, thrills and a climax to boot! And not surprisingly, the scene was reminiscent of the 1982 Champions Trophy match against Pakistan in Amsterdam when India, down 1-3, won 5-4 thanks to the hat-trick of the present coach, Rajinder Singh. And also the 1985 encounter against Germany when India levelled, from 1-4 down, to 5-5 at Perth.

India's Dilip Tirkey tries to foil Kim Jung-Chul. South Korea won this scintillating final.-V. SUDERSHAN

It is also time to conduct an indepth analysis of our weaknesses rather than praising the positive factors. Neither Devesh Chauhan nor Bharat Chetri was consistent, swaying from the magnificent to mundane. For instance, it did not require great skills to stop the third goal by Song but Chauhan needlessly allowed the gap for the wily forward. Tirkey's performance does not warrant much eloquence but Kanwalpreet's work does. He has matured into a seasoned defender.

The consistency level in the mid-field was high, thanks to the co-ordination of Viren Rasquinha, Bimal Lakra and Ignance Tirkey. Singling out anyone for additional praise will be invidious. It pains one to criticise Jugraj for that costly lapse at the crucial moment, but there were occasions when he was the saviour. Two of the three goals in the final came from him and the drag flick for the equaliser was a superb effort. He was, admittedly, poor in one-to-one situations.

The frontline too had mixed fortunes. When Dhanraj peaked, the attack was admirable as the goal by Gagan against Korea confirmed. True, there was palpable weakness with the exit of Prabhjot Singh after the ankle injury in the first match against Hong Kong, and Daljit Singh - though he played a valiant part - was an inadequate substitute. Deepak Thakur should have shouldered the burden more but he was tentative and ineffective.

Some of the Malaysian team-members celebrate after beating Pakistan in the third-place match.-AP

To say that Korea was not a deserving winner of gold, last won at Hiroshima in 1994 against the same opponent, is uncharitable. Though it rested on the individualism of the four, Seong Tae Song, Kang Weok Wook, Yew Woon Koon and Hwang, the fact that each one rose to the occasion must be admired. The pace, precision and proficiency of Seong Tae Song on the right flank make him a world class star indeed. Nippy and nifty, the Koreans were a yard or two faster than every other team in the competition and their set pieces in penalty corners were captivating. Interestingly, India has never won any of the seven finals played against Korea in a tournament.

The dream of regaining a place on the podium came true for Malaysia, taking the bronze after 1990. That it conquered a mighty force as Pakistan in tie-breaker -Malaysia lost 1-6 in the pool match - made the win far sweeter. For, it was only the second ever victory for Malaysia over Pakistan after 1986 in Seoul. With only a few seasoned stars and many inexperienced players in the ranks, it was not easy for the German coach, Paul Lissek, to thread a forceful combination. But goalkeeper Roslan Jamaluddin accused as inept in the first match against Pakistan became the hero, in the third place match against the same opponent, effecting two delectable saves in the tie-breaker, including one from Sohail Abbas.

Gagan Ajit Singh, the star-performer in the semi-final against Pakistan, is being greeted by his mates after his winning goal.-V. SUDERSHAN

As always, the towering presence of Kuhen Shanmuganathan and the mid-field work by Gobinathan and Kevin Raj sustained the defence while Chua Huat Boon was prominent in the attack. While Bangladesh became an easy meat, Malaysia found China difficult to overwhelm.

Miserable it was for Pakistan to finish without a medal since 1958. With the assembly line of promoting junior talent dry, it was inevitable to depend on veterans. Pakistan faced no opposition in the pool games, smacking everyone with huge scores, 9-0 against Bangladesh, 8-3 against China and 6-1 against Malaysia, totalling 23 goals. Perhaps that had lulled them into believing that they were the best. Though the officials blamed the red card suspension to Mohammad Nadeem as the cause for the debacle, the fact it allowed India to score four goals goes to show the team's frailty in defence and goalkeeping. Even China slotted three goals against Pakistan.

Huat Chua Boon of Malaysia and Kim Kyung-Seol of South Korea in the thick of action in the men's semifinals. Korea won 2-0.-AP

There was nothing to suggest that Pakistan would win even the bronze by the way it went about its work against Malaysia. The attack was totally pathetic with Kashif Jawad and Sarwar looking a pale shadow of their past and the deep defence fumbling repeatedly. The magic of Sohail Abbas did not work, and, admittedly, is on the wane. The Pakistanis have a lot of explanation to offer to their huge hockey loving public, and nothing is going to satisfy them after a medal-less Asiad. Is hockey going on cricket's way in Pakistan?

China is one team that Asians have to fear future. If the systematisation based on Korean technique and tactics succeeds, it will emerge a major force. That China prevailed over Japan, the bronze medallist at Bangkok, is sure warning to the rest. Japan, which almost shocked India at the World Cup, was a jaded side, doing nothing that could be even remotely be described as perfect.

A sparkle now and then from the four Ali brothers and Farooq Saeed was insufficient to carry Hong Kong anywhere. Bangladesh too appeared to be stagnating for want of young players making the grade at this level.

The triumphant Chinese women's team on the podium.-AFP

In keeping with the stature as the winner of the Champions Trophy, Chinese women scooped their first ever gold, in a tempestuous match, made an eyesore by the poor supervision of the Japanese umpire who even " awarded " a goal for China raising a genuine protest from the Koreans. But China showed the touch of authority in every segment; goal keeping by Nie Yali, defence where skipper Chen Zhao Xia was outstanding, and attack in which Bao Rong and Tang were outstanding

Korea had to settle for silver after the golden streak, starting from 1986 and continuing till 1998, ended on that somnolent afternoon. The fact this Korean side cannot be compared to the previous ones must be accepted. Minus Oh Ko Woon and skipper Lee Eun Young, the rest were ordinary. After a 5-0 win against India and when Japan tumbled the favourite, China, there was optimism of Korea sailing through the final. But it did not turn out to be so.

Japan claimed the bronze on the strength of one individual attacker, Morimoto, but the most disappointing show surfaced from the Indians, enjoying the tag as Commonwealth Champions. That they lost all the four matches takes away the sheen of the team's Manchester show but also makes one wonder whether the gold medal win then was a freak.

Fu Bao Rong of China and Yoo-Hee-Joo of Korea fight for the ball in the women's final. China won 2-1.-AFP

For days end, the Indians struggled to sight the goal, even as the defenders shouldered immense pressure. Goalkeeper Tingoleima Chanu deserves approbation for the saves she effected so as the deep defender, Amandeep Kaur, mid-fielder Sita Gussein and Suraj Lata Devi. The let down were the forwards who messed up everything by over elaboration. Both Manjinder and Pritam Siwach consciously ventured to dominate the attack when it was transparent that neither could do that. They starved the wingers, especially Mamta Kharb, and India had to wait for 199 minutes for the first goal. Judged from any angle, it was a deplorable show by the silver medallist of the last Asiad.

Critical remarks about umpiring is now becoming a feature. The Asiad was no exception. After losing to India, the Pakistanis demanded the introduction of third umpire as in cricket and also wondered why the competition should have neutral umpires. India too was dissatisfied with Murray Grime not giving the goal off Deepak's stick against Korea in the Pool match. The TV replays, however, showed no evidence of the ball touching the stick as he claimed. The red cards by the Australian umpire, Murray Grime, to Nadeem in the semi-final and to Jugraj in the final against Korea only accentuated the strident noise over umpiring, which was, decidedly of a low quality when it involved the Asian women.

All said and done, it was eventful in every sense of the word, and contributed to the game in the continent a well deserved boost.