Sure, losing to Belgium was not entirely unexpected, considering their recent record, but to lose a game after holding the lead and then being tied with less than a minute to go is difficult to digest despite Indian hockey history being littered with losses due to last minute goals. That long list had an addition on Saturday with Belgium getting the winner with 12 seconds left on the clock.
India is now up against England next at the Kyocera Stadium. England themselves had a disappointing draw against the doughty Spaniards in another match despite having many chances.
India lost 0-2 to England in the World Hokey League Finals this January in New Delhi, where England finally took bronze and India were sixth and Netherlands were champions.
India (No. 8), Spain (No. 10) and Malaysia (No. 13) are seen as the three weak teams in Group A. So the topliners are keen to grab full points from them. So, the win must be a huge relief for Belgian coach
Marc Lammers, who is here in search of Belgium's first-ever World Cup medal.
Walsh wants India to play the Indian style with short-passes and quick inter-changes. But against Belgium, the Indians were out of their original plan in the first half of the game. After the match, Walsh pointed out, "If you see the match, we did not play our (Indian) style of hockey in the first half and Belgium had (the better of exchanges in) the first half, but when we played closer to Indian style in second it was better."
On Sunday, Walsh, wanting to look ahead rather than look at the past match, said, "England is a formidable opponent and we will be strongly challenged in our match against them. We will have to move the ball effectively and this we will attain by utilising appropriate dodging techniques, which will help to create opportunities if we are able to execute in a timely fashion."
Looking ahead, Sardar, added, "We are disappointed that we lost the match in the last few minutes yesterday but we will take the positives from the match and apply it during our clash with England tomorrow. We realise that they are ranked 4th in the FIH ranking but that will not deter us from going for a win as the boys are high on confidence."
He went on to say, "We will be keeping a close tab on England's drag flicker Ashley Jackson, as he is one of the finest drag flickers today". Interestingly, six members of the English team played at the Hockey India League and that included Jackson and England captain Barry Middleton.
An area that India will need worry about is taking shots at the goal. They took just three clear shots at the goal and got two of them. In comparison, Belgium had 15. The key is to take a shy and the more you do, the greater the chances of finding the ball in the goal. Also, India gave away at least two soft penalty corners and among the guilty was the normally reliable Raghunath. Against Belgium, goalkeepers PR Sreejesh was in a 'zone' and had an exceptionally great game, but the defense needs to give him better support. England's hard-working Mark Gleghorne and Alistair Brogdon have the ability to crate havoc.
England coach Bobby Crutchley, said, "We've had a decent start, but it's a long tournament and we'll move and build on that for India. We've shown a lot of what we're about and we manage to create a lot of chances."
Hague and hearty
Torn between loyalties
Valentin Verga is torn between loyalties to the country of his birth, Argentina, and the country he now represents, the Netherlands. The 25-year-old's father, Alex, played for a Dutch club and they lived here, but when Valentin was six they moved back to Buenos Aires, only to return another six years later due to economic crisis. Valentin says, "Our future was in the Netherlands. In Argentina there was no money." He added, "I could see the stress on my father's face and we heard the stories. As a boy of 12 it was exciting for me to fly off again. It was much worse for my older sisters, who had to leave their friends behind."
But Valentin's cousins, Matias and Lucas Cammareri are physios with the Argentina team and his uncle is the team doctor. "The Cammareris and Vergas are a tightly-knit clan. Family life in Argentina is like the Mafia at time," he says with smile. But he also adds, "I will not cheer (celebrate) if I score against Argentina. I will show my respect." Top English stars have experience of Hockey India League.
At least half a dozen English players have played in the Hockey Indian League and can say that they are familiar with Indian hockey. Skipper Barry Middleton and star player Ashley Jackson have turned out for Ranchi Rhinos, the 2013 winners and 2014 bronze medallists. The others who have been in the League are Mark Gleghorne, Simon Mantell and Adam Dixon, who played for Mumbai Magicians coached by MK Kaushik, the manager of the current Indian team. Iain Lewers, played for Uttar Pradesh Wizards, for whom the coach was Roelant Oltmans, the Director, High Performance Director for the Indian team.
Ashley Jackson went for $73,000, the second highest price in the League.
Lammers calls India a 'top-six' team
On Saturday, the Belgian coach Marc Lammers was quite polite and praiseworthy in in saying, "India is playing at the top. I think they are a top six side and we were lucky to get away today and we are happy with the three points." Sure, he did not mention that his boys should have scored at least three times, if not more, but PR Sreejesh and his forwards' wayward shooting ensured a blank scorecard for 34 minutes.