Hockey World Cup 2018: Provide the right platform

India’s sixth place finish at the Hockey World Cup 2018 will bring about the routine round of questions, reviews and reactions. We are undoubtedly blessed with a strong team and the decision-makers, now, have to create the right path for them to truly realise their potential.

A quarterfinal heartbreak: India breezed through the group phase of the World Cup but suffered a narrow defeat to the Netherlands in the last eight stage.   -  AP

Hockey World Cup 2018 has been an amazing event with salt, sugar and spices for teams and hockey lovers. It had all the ingredients to be successful and will be remembered as one of the best World Cups. The overwhelming crowd support with kind hospitality and top of the world arrangements by the Odisha Government has not only revolutionised hockey but has added feathers to the popular ‘Incredible India’ movement.

During the event, I also had the opportunity to meet many old non-resident Indian hockey friends travelling from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Germany and Kenya. They packed the stadium and was happy with the facilities and soaked in the fun and festivities that had spread across the city. A few were even emotionally charged to see India host a tournament of the highest magnitude with ease and efficiency. All of them wanted the Indian team to do well and finish on the podium. You could see their love and feel the passion and sentiments for hockey and how desperately they wanted India to regain its past glory.

Bridging the gap

Indian hockey has always been exceptional. Movement with the stick and skills with ball control and wrist work is a treat to watch, but only if used at the right place and occasion. At times, I feel we are there, but during the competition the impression fluctuated from time to time. The competition at this level will never be easy and emotions will run high, at times forcing players to make disappointing decisions which can prove costly for the team. Players who are mentally tough and willing to hold their nerves during such pressure tournaments or games are welcome, rest can leave for good. Indian hockey cannot afford to play with one less player at any time, particularly during crucial periods in the fourth quarter where goals can be conceded and scored even in the dying seconds.

The comparison with the past hockey teams will continue as that was the golden era and we want to bring those glory days back. The extra baggage of expectations will continue to remain on our shoulders, which at times can be counter productive for some but motivating for others. However, I am satisfied with the overall performance of our team. Since the 2002 World Cup, for the first time India had a positive goal difference of +9 in pool matches, which shows our improved fitness, attacking power and better defending capabilities. We are getting closer to the top four teams in the world.

 

Golden generation

The Red Lions deservedly won the title. In the 2002 edition Belgium finished 14th in a 16-team competition and was fifth in the previous edition in 2014. But a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics drew the attention of the entire world and the Belgians reaffirmed their credentials as the new European superpower with their display in Bhubaneswar. The cohesiveness and bonding amongst the core group, including former and current players, give a familial atmosphere and it reflected in their playing routine even after the early exit of two key players, John-John Domen and Emmanuel Stockbroekx. A team with three penalty corner takers in Tom Boon, Loick Luypaert and the tricky flicker Alexander Henrickx (7 PC goals) always had the added advantage.

Orange going strong

The Netherlands despite losing to Germany in a pool game and a poor penalty corner conversion rate had lady luck smiling as the team reached the final with a narrow win over India and a shoot-out victory over Australia. However, the Netherlands’ luck ran out in the final as the fancied Jerome Hertzberger failed to score in the sudden death and the team had to settle for the silver medal.

Olympic champion Argentina had a difficult tournament and struggled against Spain in the opening game and also lost to France in a pool match. Clearly missing the services of coach Carlos Retegui, who had guided the Latin Americans to Olympic glory, the team was slow — often just relying on the services of penalty corner expert Gonzalo Peillat — and duly lost to England in the quarterfinals.

Australia will be happy with the bronze medal as the team failed to find its aggressive spirit on a consistent basis and had problems in creating space against strong opponents. Germany’s early exit despite the presence of star strikers Florian Fuchs, Christopher Ruhr and play-maker Tobias Hauke was unexpected. The team looked sharp in patches, but was again plagued with inconsistency.

France, China impress

France made a positive impression alongside Asian newbie China, while Malaysia and Pakistan will have to work a lot more to set things right.

India’s sixth place finish will bring about the routine round of questions, reviews and reactions. We are undoubtedly blessed with a strong team and the decision-makers, now, have to create the right path for them to truly realise their potential.