| South Korea’s Jeon Jong-ha and India’s Gagan Ajit Singh vie for the ball in Busan on Saturday
Busan, Oct. 12: The heroic fightback was rendered insignificant in the end. There was only silver around their neck, the gold was South Korea’s. As a distraught Dhanraj Pillay observed, there’s no place for a loser in Indian sport.
There was a hard lesson for the Indian hockey team from Saturday’s 3-4 Asian Games final defeat: You can’t sleep for half the match and still hope to beat a team like Korea. Starting off cautiously to prevent the opposition from getting an early goal is fine, but playing safe for almost the entire 35 minutes was inviting trouble.
Compounding the Indians’ misery was a series of horrendous defensive lapses. Villain No. 1 was the normally reliable Jugraj Singh. He scored two goals — one from a penalty corner and the other off a stroke — but would still have to erase this game from his memory soon.
The Koreans themselves made a tentative start before taking control with their swift-moving and long-passing game. With the Indians playing defensively, it was easy for the hosts to pile the pressure.
Three half-chances went abegging before Korea got on the board in the 23rd minute. Kim Yong-bae picked up a mispass from Jugraj and relayed the ball right to Kim Jung-chul whose accurate cross was banged in promptly by captain Kang Keon-wook.
Seven minutes hence, Korea were two up. Yeo Woon-kon drove the team’s second penalty corner hard and wide to Devesh Chauhan’s left.
In the entire opening session, only twice did the Indians go into the Korean ‘dee.’ Pillay was a marked man, Gagan Ajit Singh was having a quiet day too, but why didn’t the likes of Deepak Thakur and Daljit Singh Dhillon take the initiative'
If it was part of India’s strategy, the thinktank got it terribly wrong. “There was nothing wrong tactically, it was just that we let in too many goals,” said Rajinder Singh.
The third goal came nine minutes after change of ends. Ignace Tirkey lost the ball to the dangerous Song Seung-tae who cut in and drove the ball through the onrushing Devesh Chauhan’s pads. The Indians pressed the panic button and there were mistakes galore. They had two close calls before the game turned 360 degrees.
As an Ignace through ball found Deepak, the Indian forward was obstructed on the point of shooting. The umpire pointed to the dreaded spot and Jugraj pounced on the stroke like a hungry tiger.
India crept closer to Korea with a stunning goal. Ignace initiated the charge from his own half and after touches from Daljit, Deepak and Pillay, it was Gagan Ajit who guided the ball into the Korean net.
In the 24th minute, the 500-odd Indians at the Gangseo Hockey Stadium erupted a third time. Jugraj smashed India’s second penalty corner high and wide to the custodian’s left.
Despite losing a handsome lead, the Koreans gathered their wits and pressed for the winner. Like four years ago, the final would again have gone into extra-time had Jugraj not blundered again. Hot in pursuit of Song, the desperate Indian pushed him down to concede a penalty corner two minutes from full time.
Indian prayers weren’t heard as Yeo got his second goal with a rasping direct hit. Jugraj completed a nightmarish match when he tripped Yeo and got red-carded. His expulsion didn’t hurt India as there was just a minute left on the clock. The fact is, he had already caused irreparable damage.
The way the red shirts converged on one another after the hooter conveyed the joy as well as relief in the Korean camp. “We were worried to lose three-goal lead but the experience of our players saw us through,” said coach Jeon Jae-hong.
“The Indians have a weakness in defence, so we decided to attack from the start,” the coach added.
But for Dilip Tirkey, who played his heart out, the others flopped in checking the marauding Korean forwardline. Tirkey was one of five Indians named on the Asian All Star team, the others being Chauhan, Deepak, Gagan Ajit and Pillay.
What hurt India most was the reluctance to attack in the first half. For a team which has been scoring three to four goals every match since the Champions Trophy, it was a crime to go over-defensive for so long.
Korea now have three Asian Games hockey golds to India’s two. That’s a cause for shame as well as concern.
Bronze for Malaysia
Pakistan finished without a medal for the first time since the sport was introduced in the Asian Games in 1958. They went down 3-5 in the third place play-off to Malaysia.