It is tempting to use the worn out saying, so near, yet so far. This perhaps underscores the sentiments after the loss to England. A semi-final berth was only a dream after the pounding against Australia. But it persisted till the fourth encounter.
Coach Brasa's estimate of a fifth place sounds realistic. Whether this can be accomplished is open to debate. India readies to come to grips with South Africa on Monday in the last Pool ‘B' match of the Hero Honda hockey World Cup.
Competitive hockey is not about how well you play but how tactically you play for a decisive result. On Saturday, there were spells when the Indians had the crowd spellbound. The pace, precision and finesse touched the emotional chords. But the end game, for all the nerve wracking moments, was defeat. A depleted England side harnessed the few opportunities to sign a victory script.
Realistically, India needs to finish third in the pool for a possible fight for the fifth spot. If that becomes a reality then this World Cup campaign can be deemed a success. From the 11th in the last edition in 2006 to the fifth or sixth in 2010 is an achievement by itself.
With three points from four games is this aim within the realm of possibility? First, India has to win by a very comfortable margin against South Africa to shift from minus 4 to plus-something in goal difference. This is on the assumption that Spain loses to England. A draw will put Spain easily in the third spot. At best India can fight for 7-8 spots.
India lost the way after the defeat by a big margin against Spain. A draw against England could have improved matters if Rajpal had tapped in the cross in the dying minutes.
South Africa should be brimming with confidence after that extraordinary show against Pakistan. India cannot afford to take it for granted. It has to come up with a flawless performance.
Interestingly, the last meeting between the teams was in the 2006 World Cup. India won 1-0 to secure the 11th spot. In the league phase, India was held to a draw.
Statistically, of the 30 encounters thus far, India has won 18, lost five and drawn seven. In the World Cup of the three played, two were drawn with India winning one. So that's not much to speak about.
Only a clear cut win on Monday will restore the feeling that India is progressing under the foreign coach, Jose Brasa.
Keywords: hockey World Cup