New Zealand sensed 11 nervous Indians in the last quarter when they were chasing the game 2-3 down. They not just scored the equaliser in the 50th minute to make it 3-3 but also continued to be the aggressor despite a man (Nick Ross) serving yellow-card suspension for five of the last six minutes and 15 seconds on the clock.
India’s nerves perhaps also showed in the line-up they picked for the shootout. Besides the out of form and low on confidence skipper Harmanpreet Singh, the young quartet of Rajkumar Pal, Abhishek, Sukhjeet Singh and Shamsher Singh were asked to handle pressure standing on the edge of a World Cup exit, while the experienced Manpreet Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Lalit Upadhyay cooled their heels in the dugout.
Hosts India crash out of FIH Hockey World Cup 2023
The shootout takers, of course, depends on the team’s pre-match plans and training; but there certainly are Plans B and C if the situation demands a change, especially to handle the pressure of a World Cup knockout game. Sunday was one such evening when those plans weren’t used by India. While nothing can be taken away from their quality as players, the young legs of Abhishek, Shamsher and Sukhjeet succumbed to that pressure in the shootout.
The rub of the green then went New Zealand’s way in sudden death when India’s first-choice goalkeeper PR Sreejesh got injured after saving thrice in a row in one-on-ones to keep India in the hunt. But when Sam Lane put the ball past Sreejesh’s deputy Krishan Pathak, the 15,000 fans in the stadium couldn’t believe their eyes.
India suffer heartbreak, make shock exit from Hockey World Cup
Coach Graham Reid was expectedly welcomed with some fiery questions at the post-match press conference, some of which he found difficult to answer.
Q. Where did things go wrong between the Tokyo Olympics bronze medal and this World Cup?
Reid: Obviously our penalty-corner conversion, but also we had a lot of circle penetrations but we couldn’t convert those…In defence, we probably needed to be in front a bit more and a bit tighter.
Q. Did a low percentage of penalty-corner conversion cost us the World Cup?
Reid: Yeah, it is a factor, (but) not the only factor. We still created enough (chances) to win. The problem was every time we won the ball, we gave it back to them and that was the telling factor. They got their second or third goal after we gave the ball back to them just after we had won it; it gave them an opportunity. At this level you can’t do that.
Q. What next for the team going forward ?
Reid: The next two games (placement matches) are my main focus. In February-March we come back to Rourkela and play against Germany and Australia in the Pro league matches. I think then there is the Australia Test series as well in India…Details are being worked out. But for me, the focus is on our next game, which is against Japan.
Q. Do you think the boys faltered in pressure situations?
Reid: I am sure pressure and expectations all come into the mix. We made mistakes, which we don’t normally do. We need to analyse and talk about it and come up with a solution before our next game.
Q. We gave up a two-goal lead twice and have been talking of circle penetrations and creating opportunities for a long time. What do you think is actually plaguing us?
Reid: Tonight is about consistency. We let ourselves down in the last quarter, threw the ball away and stuff like that which makes it difficult. Every team will have issues with converting circle penetrations. We probably have to go back to the drawing board. It’s very hard at the end of a game to answer questions like that…It’s skill execution we need to get better at.
Q. With the benefit of hindsight, do you think we could have selected better players for the World Cup?
Reid: We still have two more matches to play. I am not going to make any comments on the players. We need to make sure this group is up for our next game.
Q. India has been waiting for 48 years to win a medal at the World. How long will we just keep creating chances and not scoring off those?
Reid: It’s an interesting and a very good question. I don’t know the answer. I think at the end of the day you have to keep practicing and keep creating opportunities. It’s very hard to score if we don’t (create chances). As far as drills, training and everything else is concerned, we do what all other teams do. I have been in this game for a long time and I know what other teams do. I don’t think there is necessarily a silver bullet. I think following this, we will try and work out how to get a mental coach involved. We need to do something different perhaps.