Michael Nobbs had said before Indias third match of the Olympic qualifiers against France,one of the stronger sides in the fray,that he would love to see at least half a dozen goals scored. He also knew it wouldnt be easy.
On Tuesday,the players did not disappoint the coach,pumping in six against France,and if the performance against the European side was any indication,the Indian mens hockey team can now be a little more confident of booking their ticket to London.
The goal fest started inside the first five minutes and it was again the combination of Tushar Khandker and Shivendra Singh on the left that broke through,with Sarwanjit Singh playing the link. The French were expected to defend well and strike during counter-attacks but that did not happen. If anything,the Indian attack only seems to be getting more intense with every game,making at least 25 forays into the opposition circle on the day. But their profligacy continued,something Nobbs admitted was a concern.
We made a series of simple,unforced errors in attack and I was getting a bit tense in the middle. There were many chances being created but many were wasted as well. I am looking at the team becoming more thorough in completing the attacks and scoring more in the coming games, he said.
The Indian forwards were definitely guilty of missing a few sitters,though they were unlucky too. SV Sunil almost as if making up for all the time he spent out injured last year,made run after run down the right to trouble the visitors. He scored one goal that was brilliant in its accuracy,earned the penalty stroke that Sandeep Singh converted (along with two more penalty corners,to take his tally in the competition to seven from three games) apart from several other chances that went abegging for lack of support.
Along with Shivendra as the left in,the two speedy forwards have with their 1-2 passes,proved a threat. Khandker too is in the middle of a purple patch,and a powerfully hit shot from the top of the circle that left French goalkeeper Matthias Dierckens clueless was,deservedly,put the icing on the cake in the win.
But more than the scoring prowess of the team - which has been the constant focus of Nobbs since he took over Tuesdays game had a few positives that were less obvious too. Sardar Singh was absent from the field for longer than ever before and Danish Mujtaba effectively filled his shoes,to keep the passes coming. That he failed to get on the scoresheet himself,shooting over the bar twice,is another matter.
But the biggest advantage was in defence. Against a team that managed to score twice – both off penalty corners- the backline of Sandeep Singh,Raghunath and Ignace Tirkey was impressive,with clean tackles and few errors,a development that must have pleased Nobbs.
India should not have too much trouble against Canada on Wednesday,though the coach would be wary of any complacency. The players too have refrained so far from making any grandiose claims,taking every opposition seriously. The wins so far in the competition,though,have led to a self-belief that they can finally wipe out the pain of missing out on the Olympics bus four years back.
Scoreline: India (Sandeep Singh 9,30,37; Shivendra Singh 4,Sunil 39,Tushar Khandker 62) beat France (Lucas Sevestre 35,Fabien Magner 57) 6-2
Other results: Poland beat Italy 7-2,Canada beat Singapore 15-1.