The eight-time Olympic medallist finishes at the bottom after losing to SA
The Indian hockey team looked to have been caught in quick sand. The more it tried, the deeper it went into the pit as the eight-time Olympic gold medallist ended 12th among as many teams with a 2-3 loss to South Africa in the classification match at the Riverbank Arena here on Saturday.
In bright sunshine and brilliant weather, in front of a near capacity crowd that was quite appreciative of every move, the Indian team tried to salvage some pride, but it was South Africa’s better resolve and dynamic scoring that carried the day.
After starting with a mishap when Manpreet Singh was injured on his head in the third minute and needed medical attention and rested through the first half, it was South Africa that held the upper hand.
South Africa struck the first blow in the eighth minute when Andrew Cronje tapped the ball home from close to the right post following a move initiated by captain Austin Smith.
The Indian team responded with a goal five minutes later, when Sandeep Singh converted a penalty corner, for his second goal in the tournament, as he dragged to the right of the goalkeeper in sounding the board. The team, despite being disjointed, pressed hard to gain the lead but the South African goalkeeper was able to competently deflect the shots by Danish Mujtaba.
With three minutes left for half-time, defender V. Raghunath was given a yellow card suspension for kicking the ball, and that proved costly.
With a minute left for half-time, South Africa regained the lead, when Timothy Drummond flashed it past a helpless Indian goalkeeper. India managed to force two more penalty corners midway through the second half, but Sandeep Singh was unable to beat the goalkeeper.
The agony was complete for India when Lloyd Norris-Jones struck a reverse hit that sailed into the roof of the goal off a defender’s stick.
There was some embarrassment when Birendra Lakra’s trouser was torn from the side during a tackle, spelling an overall poor quality package, but India managed to end on a better note with Dharamvir Singh sweeping into the goal when the ball rolled in his favour near the right side of the goal. It was his second goal of the tournament.
India had scored eight goals in all in the tournament and two of them came in the last match.
Though it had started with a 2-3 defeat to the Netherlands, the Indian team had slithered to the bottom following defeats against New Zealand (1-3), Germany (2-5), Korea (1-4) and Belgium (0-3) before it made a final bow to South Africa.
While coach Michael Nobbs excused himself by saying that he would talk on returning to India, captain Bharat Chetri conceded that the team was unable to rise to the Olympic standards.
“This was a much higher standard than what we had experienced in other tournaments.
“We needed the confidence to play a high quality game against the top teams. The crowd was very supportive for all the teams,” said Chetri, quite upset with the overall fare.
Coach Mohammed Riaz stressed that the team had missed a lot of chances, and said that the senior players were retained in the squad for their rich experience, and that a call would be made soon by the authorities back home, about the composition of the team for the future.
“The whole tournament we played pretty bad. Only one match against Holland was good,” said Riaz, quite candid in his assessment.
India had failed to qualify for the Beijing Games, and had finished seventh ahead of Korea in Athens.
South Africa was elated with the victory. Coach Gregg Clark said that the team wanted to end with a victory and was happy with the team’s performance. He felt that the team was drained emotionally and physically after the tough qualifying process.