Euro 2020 Special
 

India’s Hockey World Cup Campaign Ends In Heartbreak

India suffered a shock defeat to lower-ranked New Zealand in the ongoing FIH Hockey World Cup on Sunday, dashing the hopes of thousands of fans who thronged Odisha’s stadiums to witness the Men in Blue in action. England’s goal-scoring spree in the group stages meant that India were forced to play a crossover game, but Harmanpreet Singh’s men were widely expected to win over 11th-ranked New Zealand. But a subpar performance from the hosts saw the game pushed into penalties, which the Kiwis capitalised on.

As the FIH Hockey World Cup moves on to its quarter-final stage without the hosts, let’s take a look at how India fared in the tournament:

 

Group Stage Games

India started their Hockey World Cup campaign on the right note, securing a 2-0 victory over Spain. Amit Rohidas opened the scoring for India in the first quarter, with Hardik Singh extending India’s lead 13 minutes later. The widely anticipated fixture against England turned out to be a hard-fought draw, with neither side managing to break through the opponent’s defence.

England’s 4-0 victory over Spain in their third game meant that India needed to win their final game by at least a seven-goal margin to qualify directly for the quarter-finals. Shamsher Singh and Akashdeep Singh opened the score for India in the first half, but Wales fought back in the third quarter with back-to-back goals, levelling the score.

Akashdeep Singh once again put the hosts ahead with a quick strike in the last quarter, but it was clear that India will be forced to play the crossover match. Captain Harmanpreet Singh’s last-minute goal added to India’s tally but came too late in the game.

 

Why India Failed

India made some questionable choices during the World Cup, which might have in the end led to their elimination from the tournament. Even before the tournament, Simranpreet Singh, Sumit and Dilpreet Singh were out of coach Graham Reid’s radar either due to injury or poor form. The inclusion of Lalit Upadhyay turned out to be pointless, as the 29-year-old failed to spark in any of the three group-stage fixtures.

India’s lack of practice with penalty corners and penalties was evident throughout the tournament. Of the 26 corner opportunities, India were able to convert just five into goals – a stat that ultimately pushed them into the crossover game against New Zealand. India’s penalty strikers also lacked the mental strength and conditioning required to perform under high-pressure circumstances.

Ultimately, India were unable to make the most of the chances they were given by the opponents. Across the four games, India had made the most circle entries of any team – 94, but of their 49 shots, only nine got converted to goals. This poor conversion rate shows that India need to do a thorough post-mortem of the team’s condition, and not just be satisfied with elementary changes.

 

What Lies Ahead For India in Hockey

In the past, the response from Hockey India, the controlling body for the sport in India, has been to adopt a knee-jerk approach to fixing the team’s problems. But such an approach might not work this time around, as the issues within the team are more systemic and need comprehensive reforms.

Hockey was once the most popular sport in India, with the team consisting of players from all pockets of the nation. This has allowed India to dominate hockey for a long time – with India winning six Olympic gold medals in a row. But in the past few years, hockey has been confined to a select few states and regions. Odisha in particular has been the lone champion of the sport in India, with its sponsorship enabling India to host two back-to-back World Cups.

The lack of a domestic setup to identify and nurture talent is the root cause of India’s problems in the sport. India’s performance on the global stage peaked when the Hockey India League was alive and running, with talented youngsters making their way into the national side. But the commercial failure of the league due to poor marketing and execution saw its discontinuation, with the result that India’s hockey players do not have a regular source of income, unlike their counterparts in football or cricket.

 

Hockey World Cup Knockout Rounds

India have more games left in the tournament, with the Men in Blue taking on Japan in the 9-16th classification rounds. If India prevail in that encounter against low-ranked Japan, they will play another game next week, with a potential ninth-place finish on the cards. This will be the first time since 2014 that India will finish a tournament at the ninth spot or lower, and the hosts will be hoping for the best possible outcome.

Australia will take on Spain in the first quarter-final of the tournament tonight, while England will face Germany tomorrow. Defending champions Belgium will be in action against the Kiwis, with the Men in Black hoping to pull off another major upset in the tournament. The battle for the last semi-final spot will be between the Netherlands and the only remaining Asian team in the tournament, South Korea.

 

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