Indians complete shameful journey

Indians complete shameful journey

Hockey team finishes an unprecedented twelfth in the Olympics after 2-3 defeat to South Africa

Indian hockey’s humiliation at the Olympic Games was complete on Saturday with the team losing to South Africa and finishing last in the 12-team competition at the Riverbank arena. 

India, insipid in earlier games, could have signed off with at least a victory but South Africans, eager to avoid the wooden spoon, romped home with a 3-2 verdict to take the 11th spot. Having lost all their six matches here, this was India’s worst-ever performance in Olympic history and questions will be asked about the team’s preparations and play. A top-six finish was what coach Michael Nobbs had in mind when the team landed here but finishing 12th will be considered an unacceptable verdict, even though the team is ranked only 10th in the world.

On Saturday, South Africa led early through a goal from Andrew Cronje in the eighth minute. Forced to fight back, Sandeep Singh brought India level off a penalty corner in the 14th minute. The South Africans then struck twice, through Timothy Drummond (34th) and Lloyd Norris-Jones in the 65th to take a comfortable lead before Dharamvir Singh’s strike narrowed the margin of defeat, eight minutes from time.

A shattered Nobbs didn’t attend the post-match press conference while his assistant Mohd Riaz agreed that the players were just not focused for the tournament. “The whole tournament was pretty bad. Our boys were not focused and if you don’t take chances in games, you don’t win. When we go back, we will have to see what was the problem,” he said.

Riaz refused to comment on speculations that Nobbs and his coaching team were planning to quit. “We cannot comment on that,” he said but there is no doubt that back home, calls for Nobbs head will only get louder after this defeat.

The Australian himself has been left clueless by the string of defeats and the inability of the team to play to a plan. Nobbs had preached attacking hockey as the panacea for Indian ills but the team hasn’t been able to put together a consistent streak on that front. Conceding soft goals pegged them back repeatedly while the forwards were strangely lethargic in front of the goal. “We kept making the same mistakes all the time,” said midfielder Sardar Singh, who himself wasn’t at the top of his game here. “We have to be tough in the circle in the future. It’s disappointing. The whole team has been mentally down.

“The world’s best team’s convert their chances, we don’t,” added Sardar pointing to just one of the problem areas. Penalty corners were supposed to bring India goals but the team hardly got any and weren’t up to the task even when they were awarded short corners.

Captain and goalkeeper Bharat Chetri admitted India weren’t up to the mark. “We thought we were good enough to compete at this level. But as the tournament progressed, we realised how far behind we are of the rest of the world. The other teams raised their standards and we couldn't do that,” he said.

“We need to go back and start from scratch. Everything has gone wrong for us here and we need to have serious look at ourselves and see what can be done to get back to winning ways.”

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