India shares spoils with Canada, finishes fourth

After a barren first half, when Nikkin Thimmaiah and Manpreet Singh failed to capitalise on the opportunities to score, India led twice thanks to a sharp reverse flick by Akashdeep Singh and a timely deflection off a long ball from the centre by Ramandeep Singh.

India finished fourth after playing out a draw against Canada on Friday.   -  Reuters

India allowed Canada to catch up and spoil its chances of finishing higher than fourth with a 2-2 draw in the last league match at the Olympic hockey centre on Friday.

After a barren first half, when Nikkin Thimmaiah and Manpreet Singh failed to capitalise on the opportunities to score, India led twice thanks to a sharp reverse flick by Akashdeep Singh and a timely deflection off a long ball from the centre by Ramandeep Singh.

It, however, lacked the ideas overall to press home the advantage.

Canada forced only two penalty corners in the whole match but converted them both through its skipper Scott Tupper. He sneaked the first under goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh and gave him no chance the second time by slamming the ball in.

Coach Roelant Oltmans was heard pulling up the players for not being intelligent in their approach. His anger and anguish was understandable as the team had slipped considerably, after having matched teams like Germany and the Netherlands.

> Read: Oltmans not pleased with performance

With seven points from the league, with victories over Argentina and Ireland, India is likely to run into either Spain or Belgium.

A victory may not have ensured a weaker team for India, but it would have definitely boosted its morale going into the knock-out stage.

At the same time, it had to be noted as to how a powerful team like Australia has been struggling in the other group. There are no easy matches in the knock-out phase. India is still capable of stepping it up and competing hard against a quality team, irrespective of which team it meets in the quarterfinals.

The new format of knock-out has opened the avenues for India and it can still live its dream by pulling itself together. The pep talk by Oltmans could lead the team to reach such standards as there is no doubt that the team has the capability.

The only problem, perhaps, is that the team tends to play according to the quality of the opposition. This had to be said, without taking any credit away from Canada which finished last with one point.

The dipping standards may be because of the lack of focus and urgency when not challenged that well. It may not be an issue against top drawer teams that will be razor sharp. The picture will be clearer once the league phase ends. Till then, India can work on the basics and prepare to be sharp when it counts.

For a team that had finished 12th in the London Olympics and had not qualified for the Beijing Olympics earlier, a top-8 finish is already creditable. India can play its heart out, the way it showed in the last three minutes against Canada, when it rested goalkeeper Sreejesh, attacked and defended with remarkable flourish and finesse.

Of course, it had to be conceded that the team lacked the sting up front after S.V. Sunil had to be rested owing to an injury he sustained while running into the fence behind the goal, after a brilliant pass midway through the second quarter.

There is still everything to play for, for Indian hockey.