Umpires divert attention from Argentina

S. THYAGARAJAN

IT is not easy to reflect on the seventh Junior Hockey World Cup at Rotterdam without a sense of anguish. This is not because India failed to win a medal; but for the manner in which the team was forced to forego what could have been a bronze against Spain. The sequence of events that denied India a medal, which it richly deserved, has been written about. However, a blow-by-blow reiteration of it with the intention of capturing the tragic element in it would not be inappropriate.

A spectacular deflection to the roof of the net by Raja off a free hit by Sandeep Singh is declared a goal by the umpire from Gibraltar, Nathan Stagno. The goal is announced over the pubic address system. Everyone in the Indian camp rejoices as only six minutes are left for the hooter to go.

There is dissent from a few Spaniards, who probably thought the ball rose before Raja touched it. Stagno looks convinced of his decision. But when the players approach the other umpire from the Netherlands, Klein-Nigelvoort Erik, things change dramatically. This gentleman, who was seen noting down the scorer's number seconds before, suddenly decides that Stagno is wrong. He walks down, has a brief interaction and then delivers the sucker punch — NOT A GOAL!

Thus ended India's campaign as the defending champion. The reactions that follow do not take emotional or nationalistic trajectories. But they articulate the distress among lovers of the sport who are confronted with the tragic degeneration of umpiring in the sport. Imagine such a reversal in a soccer field anywhere in Europe — mayhem would have followed, absolute blood and thunder!

Many Asian coaches in the tournament would have found to their chagrin that protesting against such infractions is tantamount to hitting the head against a wall. The maxim "the umpire is always right" was followed truly and blindly to sickening limits in the tournament. Korea lost to Germany 29 seconds before the hooter, with only nine players on the field. The umpire who gave the first yellow card to Korea's Lee Jong Soo simply forgot to recall the player until the bench reminded the umpire. The Pakistanis nearly manhandled the Spanish umpire Manuel Requena in the key match for positions against the Netherlands when he stunned everyone with a penalty stroke and a yellow card to Shakeel Abbasi. The Malaysians too were offended by Satinder Kumar's award of a penalty corner in the 69th minute in their match against Pakistan. The 2-1 verdict cost Malaysia a chance to figure in 5-8 positions. A few of Malaysia's Amarjit Singh's rulings were incomprehensible as India surrendered a 0-2 lead against Australia.

At the end of it all, none of the Asian countries — which form the largest support base for the sport and the highest television ratings — were in the medal bracket. What a morbid situation would it have been for Europe if it were to complete a world level competition sans a medal, even the bronze that Spain won!

Umpiring indiscretions are part of sport. But the disgusting level of inconsistency that affects a particular country, or a region, for years on end is hard to stomach. It becomes a poor advertisement for the sport itself, breeding a tone of cynicism among the spectators against umpires. It is high time that the FIH took advantage of the technology available, at least in major competitions. If Stagno had doubts about the goal, he would have called for a replay rather than depending on his Dutch colleague, who was pressured by the Spanish players to intervene although he was at least 50 yards away from the scene of action.

Away from the ugly aspect of umpiring, Argentina must be given all the acclaim that the team deserves for its progress in the tournament to claim the Roger Danet Trophy. Undefeated in eight matches, Argentina was a cut above the rest. Argentina was not a well-balanced combination such as India, Australia and the Netherlands, but the individual brilliance of Lucas Rossi, Lucas Vila and Pedro Ibarra was enough to decimate the opponents.

Mark Hager's Aussies flowed through many undulating situations — a 7-1 win over Germany, a 3-3 draw with Malaysia and a 1-3 defeat against Argentina. It is not difficult to name the best Aussie on show — burly Colin Hennessey's aggregate of 15 goals in the tournament is impressive by any count. Opportunism is his forte, and he lived up to his strength in every tie.

The bronze for Spain was a consolation prize. After a bright start, Spain faded away progressively. Imagine its 4-0 win against India in the pool game and the penalty stroke verdict for the 3-4 positions.

Considering various aspects, a fourth placing for India was unreal. Admittedly, the team failed to remain focussed in certain areas. The reverse against Australia after leading 2-0 was a case in point, as was the failure to build on the 1-0 lead against Spain when the team attempted to defend it. Sandeep Singh, expectedly, was the key, but it would be churlish to minimise the effort put in by wing half V. S. Vinay, pivot Vivek Gupta and midfielder Mahadik.

While coach Harendra chose V. Raja as the best forward, credit should also be given to the moments of skill displayed by Tushar Khandekar, Hari Prasad and Birendra Lakra. Goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza, who also led the team, did make a few valiant saves, especially against the Aussies, but came a cropper in the tie-breaker against Spain.

European coaches and administrators must be wondering why superpowers such as Holland and Germany played the way they did, finishing outside the top four. This may raise doubts over the efficacy of their junior programme. The Pakistanis were surprisingly out of depth. But it is inexplicable why the Koreans, after that splendid start, collapsed in such a fashion after losing to India in a crucial pool game. They lost three games in a row to Netherlands, Germany and Pakistan. England's ninth place showed the team's resilience to outwit Malaysia whose target was a place in the first eight. The team did show the power and strength for it, but the last second strike by Adnan Zakir shocked it beyond words. Malaysia's hero was the compactly built Zulkifli.

The final ratings do reflect the spread of the sport to all continents. As one left the picturesque HCR on that mellow Sunday evening after the last spectator had trooped out it was difficult to resist asking the question, "Is umpiring emerging as a stumbling block to the progress of the sport?" Wish the answer is in the negative.

The results Preliminary Round: Pool-A: South Korea beat Spain 3-1; beat England 5-3; beat Mexico 11-0, Spain beat England 1-0: beat Mexico 6-0, England beat Mexico 12-0.

Pool-B: Argentina beat Germany 3-2; beat Malaysia 1-0; beat South Africa 1-0, Germany beat Malaysia 7-5; beat South Africa 4-3, Malaysia beat South Africa 4-1.

Pool-C: Australia beat Pakistan 3-2; beat Belgium 7-1; beat Chile 12-0, Pakistan beat Belgium 3-1; beat Chile 2-1, Belgium beat Chile 2-0.

Pool-D: India beat Netherlands 4-1; beat Egypt 4-1; beat Poland 3-2; Netherlands beat Egypt 4-0; beat Poland 6-0, Egypt beat Poland 3-2.

Championship Round: Pool-E: India beat South Korea 3-1; beat England 1-0, Spain beat India 4-0; beat Netherlands 2-1; beat Egypt 2-1, Netherlands beat South Korea 4-1; beat England 5-1, South Korea beat Egypt 4-2; England drew with Egypt 2-2.

Pool-F: Argentina beat Australia 3-1; drew with Pakistan 1-1 and with Belgium 0-0, Australia beat Germany 7-1; drew with Malaysia 3-3, Germany beat Pakistan 2-0; beat Belgium 4-2, Pakistan beat Malaysia 2-1, Malaysia beat Belgium 4-2.

Consolation Round: Pool-G: S. Africa beat Poland 5-1; beat Chile 7-0; beat Mexico 9-0. Poland beat Chile 4-1; drew with Mexico 4-4, Chile beat Mexico 5-0.

Classification Round: Malaysia beat Egypt 2-1, England beat Belgium 3-1, Germany beat South Korea 5-4 (et), Netherlands beat Pakistan 4-1.

Semifinals: Australia beat India 3-2, Argentina beat Spain 2-1 (gg).

Ranking Round: 15th place: Chile bt Mexico 3-1, 13th place: South Africa bt Poland 5-3, 11th place: Belgium bt Egypt 3-0, 9th place: England bt Malaysia 3-2 (gg), 7th place: Pakistan bt S. Korea 6-1, 5th place: Netherlands bt Germany 3-3; TB 8-7, Bronze medal: Spain bt India 1-1; TB 5-4, Gold medal: Argentina bt Australia 2-1.

Rank Team MP W D L GF GA Rank in 2001 1 Argentina 8 6 2 0 13 6 2 2 Australia 8 5 1 2 37 14 6 3 Spain 8 5 1* 2 18 8 5 4 India 8 5 1{circ} 2 18 13 1 5 Netherlands 8 5 1* 2 28 12 8 6 Germany 8 5 1{circ} 2 28 27 3 7 Pakistan 8 4 1 3 17 14 — 8 S. Korea 8 4 0 4 30 24 7 9 England 8 3 1 4 24 17 4 10 Malaysia 8 3 1 4 21 20 12 11 Belgium 8 2 1 5 12 21 — 12 Egypt 8 1 1 6 10 23 — 13 S. Africa 7 4 0 3 30 13 11 14 Poland 7 1 1 5 16 27 — 15 Chile 7 2 0 5 10 28 15 16 Mexico 7 0 1 6 5 50 —

*Won in Tie-breaker, {circ}Lost in Tie-breaker.

Top Scorer: Colin Hennessy (Aus)-15 goals — Compiled by B. G. Joshi