Before the start of the India vs Pakistan Junior World Cup match for the 9th place at the National Stadium,as the home teams national anthem was being played,a curious thing happened. Midway through Jana Gana Mana,at the sudden drop in tempo after …uchhala jaladhi taranga,the music seemed to have stopped.
The 6,000-strong gathering,however,quickly improvised. Instead of mere lip movement,they started singing the rest all the way to its stirring crescendo,drowning out the instrumental version which crept back into life.
The spectators vocal chords would get little rest throughout the next one-and-half hours,but unlike the national anthem,they wouldnt be able to carry off the national team,who looked completely unplugged in the final game of their underwhelming campaign.
It finished with a 4-2 loss on penalties to Pakistan after a 1-1 draw in regulation time. More than the loss,it was the manner in which it came that was more deflating for the fans and observers. As has been the case throughout the tournament,India conceded early,in the 6th minute. Pakistans Umar Bhutta picked out an unmarked Mohd Dilber on the right,whose cross was calmly directed into the Indian goal by Rizwan Ali.
In their previous games,the Indians had fought back with positive,attacking hockey; on Saturday,they couldnt so much as string three meaningful passes together. The ball wasnt trapped and was turned over too easily. There was little coordination among the players.
However,to give credit where it is due,the Pakistani defence was resolute and didnt allow too many circle penetrations. In fact,it was the back line that made the difference between these two equally error-prone teams.
It was in the 34th minute of the match that the first real attempt from the Indian team came. Manpreet Singh stole the ball near the 75-yard line and after a quick one-two with Mandeep Singh,had a shy at the goalpost. However,his hit went inches wide. This was the closest the hosts would come to scoring from open play in the entire match.
India got their first penalty corner in the 45th minute,but Gurjinder Singhs uppish hit was blocked by the keeper. At moments like these,when he fails to sound the board or bulge the net,Gurjinder,whose defensive abilities leave much to be desired,looks a liability.
As the clock wound down and India seemed on course for a defeat,the dragflicker had a shot at redemption,with Mandeep earning India their second PC in the 60th minute. Gurjinder this time scored with a venomous low hit. India 1,Pakistan 1; game on.
At moments like these,Gurjinder,Indias leading scorer in the tournament with six goals, seems like a blessing. The hosts managed to see off a few anxious moments to force a penalty shootout.
After being 2-2 in the running penalties,Harjot Singh saved off Mohd Rizwan Jr to give India the upper hand. But Pakistan No.1 Mazhar Abbas made it even right away by stopping an Imran Khan hit. Pakistan skipper Bhutta then drew Harjot forward before uncorking a low scoop that looked like a hockeys version of the Panenka.
Mazhar then blocked Satbir Singhs feeble attempt to put Pakistan on match point. Mohd Irfan was on target and Pakistans dugout erupted. After the match,the double Olympic gold medallist from Holland,Jacques Brinkman,who now review players performances for the Dutch daily Telegraaf,gave a thumbs-down to the hockey on display. It was an awful game. This is what happens when you play hockey for pride than for the sake of playing it, Brinkman said.
On Saturday,India didnt seem to play for pride either.