India's habit of conceding late goals has now become an acute embarrassmentThe way the Korean strikers weaved patterns would have rattled any defenderIndia should have bolstered its defence after watching it crumble in the final stages of previous matches
Repeatedly cracking under pressure at the closing stages does not do credit to a team in any grade of hockey, leave alone an international side. The Indian defence's habit of conceding late goals has now become an acute embarrassment.
India is on its way to play for the bottom four spots once again, after succumbing to pressure and conceding two goals during the dying stages that gave South Korea a 2-1 victory in the World Cup preliminary league match.
The way the Koreans negated their one-goal deficit to emerge victorious ought to be a lesson for us. Even when India was leading and the luck appeared loaded against South Korea, it never gave up. The Koreans kept their composure and mounted repeated raids, which proved too much for the shaky Indian defence.
Testing the nerves
South Korea almost forced penalty corners at will, testing the nerves of the Indian defenders who appeared at sea whenever the Koreans broke into the scoring zone. The way the Korean strikers weaved patterns in our territory would have rattled any defender, especially when the half-line was unable to put up a challenge.
That India was still leading by a goal just seven minutes from the hooter was a credit to goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza's brave effort of charging out to block South Korean drag-flicks on penalty corners. That was a big reason for the Koreans not breaching the Indian defence earlier than the 63rd minute.
It also helped India that South Korea's penalty corner drills were not quite functional, until late in the second session.
India could also count itself lucky that the umpires reversed a penalty stroke awarded against it later. That could have upset the Koreans' rhythm, but they showed themselves to be tough fighters.
No one would blame a team if it gives up after seeing so many chances go waste, but the Koreans realised they had the Indian defence under their spell. Their never-say-die attitude paid dividends in the end.
Arriving with a bang
It is not for nothing that the Asian challenge in contemporary World hockey is spearheaded by South Korea, which announced its arrival on the international stage with a bang two decades ago.
South Korea first sparkled when it won the Asian Games title for the first time in Seoul in 1986, breaking the South Asian monopoly of India and Pakistan playing every final in the continental event. It has not looked back since.
Claiming the silver at the 2000 Olympics proved why Korea is considered among the toughest rival.
Many of the Indian players would have been aware of the grand comeback that South Korea made in the Sydney Olympic final against the Netherlands, when it scored two goals minutes from the end to tie the scores at the end of the regulation period.
When you take on such rivals, you simply cannot leave gaps in the defence. India's defence posed no threat for the South Koreans, who were trying to make amends for allowing South Africa to hold them to a draw in the previous match.
South Korea is in with a chance of making the semifinals and its desperate thrust in the closing stages was to be expected. India should have bolstered its defence after watching it crumble in the final stages of previous matches.
With South Korea missing so many penalty corners, India could have increased its lead through frequent counter-attacks that opened up chances, but the strikers were not able to capitalise.
It was the same old story again, and we don't seem to be finding a solution for it. We are neither scoring goals, nor able to plug the gaps in our defence. PTI