India under pressure after Pak defeat

India's defeat to Pakistan yeterday has put the team under pressure with the prospects of missing an Olympic berth very much a realistic thought.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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Sohail Abbas of Pakistan continues to be India's nemesis as he proved yesterday by converting four penalty corners in his side's 5-3 win in the Men's Olympic hockey qualifying tournament here. The defeat, their first in three games, has put India under pressure with the prospects of missing an Olympic berth very much a realistic thought. After today's rest day, the Indians are scheduled to meet New Zealand tomorrow and Canada on Tuesday. Both the games will be a test of the Indian team's collective character as also the ability of the players to rebound from the loss to Pakistan. India need to finish in the top six if they hope to qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics. With the seventh spot in balance and subject to the decision of the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) after the protest by Olympic hosts Greece, the Indians cannot afford to leave anything to chance. Coach Rajinder Singh expressed confidence that India would qualify for the Olympics. "We need to win the remaining two games, and I have absolutely no doubts that India will be there in Athens," he said. India began their campaign here on the wrong foot with a 1-1 draw with Belgium who scored the equaliser in the dying minutes. In their next match, India turned back a 0-2 deficit to beat Malaysia 5-3, a victory that did not bring much cheer in terms of overall performance. But then, the Indians were happy to pocket three points that kept them in the hunt. However, the defeat to Pakistan severely pulled down the Indian team, for the Kiwis, with two wins and a draw, are on seven points, just two behind the Pakistan. India are perched rather precariously on four points. Thus, a third place finish in the pool would mean play-offs for 5-8 positions, something that the Indians are desperately trying to avoid. The position that India presently find themselves in is reminiscent of the inaugural qualifying event in 1991 at Auckland where the Malaysians came to their rescue with a 5-3 win over Belgium in a crucial encounter. Indians then scrambled past the United States 8-0 to qualify on better goal difference. If the Indians currently find themselves skating on thin ice, then they have to blame themsleves. In none of the three matches so far, has the Indian team clicked as a unit. Against Belgium, the forwards flopped; versus Malaysians, the attack clicked, but the defence was a let-down, conceding 12 penalty corners; finally, when the entire team moved in unision against Pakistan, the goalkeeping was abysmal with Devesh Chauhan committing unpardonable blunders. Worse still, in each of the three matches, the Indians were reduced to 10 men at a crucial juncture. Playmaker Baljit Singh Dhillon was sent out against Belgium, then midfielder Ignace Tirkey took a yellow card in the next match, and yesterday, full-back Kanwalpreet Singh followed them to the sin bin. Rajinder admitted that the yellow card suspensions weighed the team down. "Our players need to be aware of the damage caused by such acts of indiscretion," he said while reflecting on the temporary suspensions. (PTI)