For 59 minutes and 20 seconds, PR Sreejesh did little wrong. He looked assured between the posts, organised the defence well and was decisive while venturing out of his position. Except once. And that cost India the match.
With just 40 seconds remaining, Germany’s Dan Luong Nguyen played a long, hopeful ball inside the Indian ‘D’. The defenders were unable to deal with it and Sreejesh, expecting that VR Raghunath and Bimal Lakra had him covered, stepped out of his line. However, he had misjudged the bounce of the newly-laid turf at the Kalinga Stadium. The 26-year-old couldn’t clear the wobbling ball, missing it completely.
Florian Fuchs, who was lurking inside the ‘D’, waiting for such an error, latched on to the loose ball. With Sreejesh already having committed himself, the young German fired home a great reverse-hit finish. A despondent Sreejesh asked for TV referral, alleging Fuchs had blocked and pushed him as both players were vying for the stray ball. But it was more hopeful shout than a confident one.
As the umpires deliberated over the decision, Sreejesh sat inside the goal, hands on head, gesticulating to Raghunath that he should have had him covered. The referee upheld his decision, handing the home team a 1-0 defeat in their opening match of the Champions Trophy on Saturday.
The defeat to a highly-inexperienced German side puts India under pressure to win their second match against Argentina on Sunday. Even though the format of the Champions Trophy is such that all teams will progress to the knockout rounds, India will be keen not to finish at the bottom of the table and thereby avoid facing the Pool A winners in the quarterfinals.
But that’s a far-fetched scenario for the time being. India will need to address several issues before taking the field against Argentina. The Sardar Singh-led side was very conservative going forward and was more reactive on the field, failing to anticipate Germany’s moves.
Even India’s high performance director Roelant Oltmans, who is doubling up as a coach, rued India’s poor decision-making in the attacking third, which resulted in very few shots on target. Germany goalkeeper Nicolas Jacobi was hardly tested by the Indian forwards. The only time he was put in danger, Akashdeep Singh unleashed a feeble shot that was easily parried away.
Sardar looked in discomfort each time he got the ball. Perhaps his calf hadn’t healed as he would have hoped to.
In sharp contrast, the Germans were more creative and positive during attack and much more assured when defending. A lot of that was because of the presence of Moritz Fuerste, who played as a full back instead of his regular position of a midfielder. His commanding presence at the back provided proper balance to the young German side.
While Fuerste was marshalling the defence, captain Tobias Hauke controlled the midfield. He led the wave after wave of German attacks, constantly putting Sreejesh under pressure. Lack of quality strikers coupled with some fine goalkeeping by the Indian meant Germany could not score more.
India put all men behind the ball in the final few minutes of the match. And just when it seemed they had weathered the storm, Sreejesh’s moment of indecisiveness and lack of communication cost them dearly. It would be unfair to pin the blame on him. But as the thousands inside the stadium made their way out, they joked that whether it’s a 60 or 70-minute game, India will never give up its habit of conceding late goals.
Sunday’s matches: Belgium vs Australia : 12:00; England vs Pakistan: 14:00; Germany vs Netherlands: 17:30; Argentina vs India: 19:30. * Live on Ten Sports