This wasn’t what coach Terry Walsh wanted, even though he wouldn’t admit it. India came into the Incheon Asian Games as one of two favourites along with hosts South Korea. As it now turns out, the potential final before the tournament began will be a semifinal.
And rusty India have reasons enough to feel worried. Even though they have had an edge over Korea in their recent meetings (India comfortably defeated them 3-0 at the World Cup), playing them in front of their home crowd in a knockout tie will be a completely different story.
The Sardar Singh-led Indian team lost 1-2 to Pakistan in a tense game last week at the Seonhak Hockey Stadium, which resulted in them finishing second in their Pool. India, who last won a gold in the 1998 Bangkok edition under Dhanraj Pillay’s captaincy, are once again looking for a top finish to gain a direct entry into the 2016 Rio Olympics.
However, a lot of concerns lie in all departments of their game. Their defense is still not steady in the face of speedy thrusts and the weakness was evident against a skillful Pakistan side in their opening game. Walsh also lamented the lack of a ‘livewire’ approach and the midfield has still not exercised the authority required at this level.
The fact that SV Sunil, Chinglensana Singh, Danish Mujtaba and Birendra Lakra have just one field goal each to their respective credit even after playing against minnows like Oman and Sri Lanka tells its own tale.
Walsh, however, downplayed the concerns and insisted that the team was getting its ‘processes’ right and did not read too much into the performances so far.
“We have achieved our first target for the competition and are now entering the crossover matches of the tournament. Playing South Korea at their home is a serious challenge for us,” Walsh said. “We will need high-quality ball handling and decision-making in the game. We must match their urgency and physical strength. Our target now is to out-perform the hosts,” the Australian said.
The two teams go into the match with a history of evenly-fought contests in the Asian Games with India enjoying a slender advantage, having won 2-1 in the 3rd/4th match to win bronze at the 2010 Guangzhou Games and drawing 1-1 at the 2006 Doha Games. They have also faced off in the final twice, 1998 and 2002, with both the teams emerging champions once each.