London: It was an evening of shame for Indian hockey at the Riverbank Stadium on Tuesday. Playing their last group B match against Belgium, India succumbed to a 0-3 defeat, thus ending with the dubious distinction of finishing last in the group after losing all five matches.
This is India’s worst showing in Olympics and they will now have to play for the 11th or 12th position against South Africa in the 12-team field. Before this, India’s worst result was in 1996 Atlanta when they finished eighth. In the 1986 World Cup in England, India finished last in the 12-team competition.
Pitted against a team who beat them in the Champion Challengers in South Africa last year, the eight-time gold medallists looked a pathetic lot against their more athletic rivals. Down by a first half goal scored by Jerome Dekeyser in the 15th minute off a combined attack, the Indians could hardly make a worthwhile move in the later half. On the contrary, they looked shaky and conceded another goal in the 40th minute. Gauthier Boccard struck with a reverse flick.
A few minutes before the final hooter Tom Boon rounded off the tally with a fine strike from just inside the circle.
The misfiring Indian forwardline also made Belgium’s task easy. Shivendra Singh was the worst offender as he missed a series of chances from favourable angles. While Sardara Singh worked hard, the rest of the players fumbled. Belgium custodian Vincent Vanasch also played a great game, thwarting at least four attempts by the Indians.
Once again, like in all matches, Sardara was India’s best player and looked increasingly frustrated as all his efforts went in vain. At the end of the match, when rest of the team left for the dressing room, Sardara could be seen standing alone near the team bench. Later, he was joined by coach Michael Nobbs and the duo was engaged in a long conversation. Nobbs, however, refused to speak to the media after the match.
“Our performance was extremely poor,” conceded Chetri. “I don’t know what happened… We defended badly and could never initiate attacks. Overall, we did not play up to our potential. Perhaps we could have played a few more practice matches against top teams before coming to Olympics.”
There were rumours that the a suggestion by Nobbs a few days back that some of the senior players should no more play for the national team again has upset a section of the players in the team.