Indian hockey lovers would be delighted to see the Indian junior men’s team sneak into the semifinals of the 12th Junior Men’s World Cup after they crossed the Belgium hurdle by a solitary goal in the quarterfinal stage. As an ardent supporter of the Indian team, it is easy to hop onto the quarterfinals winning celebrations bandwagon but can we lose sight of the fact that it was Belgium and not India, who dictated terms from the outset – India were not allowed to play their natural game – free-flowing attacking hockey even as the Red Lions, who engaged in a bout of slick and quick interchange of passes. The fact that India’s first attacking move came in the closing stages of the opening quarter vindicates the point of how Belgium retained possession over India.
The euphoria over India’s win is understandable but the Red Lions were far away from being outplayed. Belgium had 24 circle penetrations as against 16 of India – a key statistical metric to determine how they threw everything into their attacks. No team deserves to win if they can’t convert so many circle penetrations – to top it all, messing up all their three penalty corners only compounded their woes.
If our forwardline run riot in the league phase, it was our defence that stood like a rock of Gibraltar and that in the end contributed to our semifinal entry. Goalkeeper Pawan deserves applause for the way he snuffed out Belgium scoring opportunities on a regular basis. Sanjay was simply outstanding with his tackling and ball control – ably supported by Abhishek Lakra and Shardananad Tiwari. The shrewd side of Sanjay was at play when he foxed the Belgium goalkeeper during India’s only penalty corner exercise by setting it up for Shardananad Tiwari instead of taking the drag-flick – it caught the Red Lions unawares, leading to the only goal of the match.
India will have to maintain their robust defensive structure against Germany in the semifinals on Friday – more importantly, they must not allow their opponents to enjoy possession and make efforts to hustle them out of their strides from the starting hooter – something we only saw in the latter part of the match. India must take their attack to the opposition and not allow Germany dictate terms like Belgium did in the first half of play. At the end of the day, we cannot discount the fact that India did not play hockey it is capable of in their win over Belgium – the profligacy of the red brigade and magnificent display by our deep defence were instrumental to India sealing a semifinal berth.