India took the fight to the Netherlands, but could not capitalise on a string of penalty-corner chances at the hooter, and lost 2-1 in their league match at the Olympic hockey centre on Thursday.
It was heartening to see the team that was reduced to nine players at one stage press hard towards the end, even dispensing with the services of goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh in favour of reinforcement up front.
The ploy almost worked as the team retained possession and pushed the Dutch hard.
“You cannot consider the penalty corners at the end as five; it was one that had to be retaken. But, I agree, we need to convert our chances against such top teams,” said captain Sreejesh.
Coach Roelant Oltmans also spoke on similar lines and said that the team deserved credit for fighting so well.
“We are still lacking in some areas. But the team did well. That is encouraging for the upcoming matches,” Oltmans said.
Oltmans revealed that the team was used to playing without a goalkeeper to push hard for goals at closing stages, and had performed creditably in similar circumstances in the six-nation tournament in Spain.
Sreejesh said: “It does not matter if we lose 1-2 or 1-3. So, it is better to take the chance.”
A barren first half saw both the teams happy enough to just move the ball around.
However, two minutes into the second half, the Dutch converted their first penalty corner. Rogier Hofman smacked the ball home after the first shot had rebounded off the goalkeeper’s pads. India responded with a goal six minutes later through a penalty corner strike by V. Raghunath.
The momentum was in India’s favour at this stage, but two quick yellow cards, to V. Raghunath and S.V. Sunil, took the sting out of the attack, even though the team managed the situation remarkably well.
“It was taking a lot of energy out of the other players who were on the field,” Oltmans said.
The Dutch clinched the issue after a series of attacks by converting their fourth penalty corner, a smart strike by Mink van der Weerden sounding the boards.
Dismissing any idea of the defeat being a blessing in disguise in terms of avoiding certain teams in the other group in the knock-out phase, Sreejesh said that the only intent was to play every match well and then see who India gets to play in the quarterfinals.
With Australia floating around dangerously low in the other group and Great Britain in an almost similar situation, it may not be all that bad for India to finish third in the group.
The coach and the captain were clear that any team that reaches the quarterfinals would be strong, and India would have to play at its best to make the top four.
The Netherlands 2 (Rogier Hofman, Mink van der Weerden) bt India 1 (V. Raghunath).