When China scored those three goals in the last eight minutes of the match to stun former champions South Korea on Thursday, it served a reminder to the Indian men’s team that watched the Koreans pay dearly for what felt like the Indian complacency of Jakarta 2018 semifinals.
The lovely one-two between Mandeep Singh and Abhishek for the third goal precisely explained India’s control in their first real test of the Games against defending champions Japan. The goalkeeper was sold a dummy in what looked like a training drill for the Indian forwards.
The structure in defence wasn’t lost either. Japan had just one penalty corner in the first 30 minutes, as Harmanpreet switched his roles between a defender and an attacking midfielder, with Vivek Sagar Prasad often seen playing at the back.
There was a plan in most of the things on view on Thursday.
Until the 56th minute, the game followed that pattern. Three injuries through the game reduced the strength and pace in Japan’s quicksilver feet. But it also coincided with India getting “switched off”
Japan scored two goals in the last five minutes to take the dominance factor out of the scoreline that had Abhishek’s brace and strikes by Mandeep and Amit Rohidas on the sheet. The Japanese, in fact, were only looking sharper when the final hooter sounded.
Did the one-way traffic of 32 goals combined in wins over Uzbekistan and Singapore had a role in complacency that showed up?
Vice-captain Hardik more or less agreed.
“I guess we were getting easy because we were 4-0 up and we knew that they are not going to score four goals. But we should strive for a clean-sheet. That gives confidence to goalkeepers as well. That’s what champion teams are all about. If they are winning 4-0, they are keen to score another goal. That’s the mindset we need,” said Hardik after the match.
The attacking midfielder shared an interesting learning and plan that the team is working on based on a 70-30 formula.
“We have talked about it (complacency). In this Asian Games, 70% of the game is on us. The rest 30% is when opponents get turnovers or when we get a little easy. The other team can take advantage of that. We have to keep in mind that inside the circle we shouldn’t switch off,” he said.
Coach Craig Fulton then joined in to share his learning while Hardik admitted “it was a relief” to win their first competitive game of the 19th Asian Games, beating the 2018 gold medallists.
“The transition from attack to defence needs to be a little faster,” said Hardik, while the coach pointed at keeping possession.
“Just (need to focus on) phases of possession,” said Fulton pointing at the last closing minutes of the match. “We don’t need to score three goals with 4-0 up and five minutes to go, so it’s just something we need to address,” said the coach.
India next play Pakistan on September 30.