The secret of winning at a team sport is the ability of divergent thought processes to converge into one dominant strategy. This comes from match practise and it comes from selflessness. On both these counts India were found wanting once again as Belgium managed a facile 3-0 victory in their final Pool B encounter at the London Olympics.
Of course, Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch played out of his skin to sap the steam out of India's campaign to salvage some pride but then he was also helped by a bunch of players who did not look overtly keen to make that crucial final pass near the goal mouth.
Far too often, Vanasch was able to check the attempt as he was not confronted with the need to change direction at the last moment to confront the kind of threat that arises when a team plays as a unit.
"We missed three open goal chances in the first half," said assistant coach Mohammad Riaz. In total number of penetrations of the attacking circle, Belgium's 29 are just one more than India. However, they scored three out of the ten attempts at goal. India's nine shots all went kaput
Even as the scoreline reflects a one-sided encounter, match stats show that possession was actually evenly divided at 50% for both. It's just that our lot did not seem to be able to convert the moves that they managed to sculpt. The match saw another valiant effort by Sardar Singh who could be seen charging up to feed the forwards at regular intervals. Word from the dressing room suggests that this man cried after the dismal last loss to Korea, he was inconsolable after the match on Tuesday too.
On the physical side, nine out of the sixteen Belgian players are either six foot or above. In a sport increasingly getting physical, this is a crucial advantage. That their coach Colin Batch made 70 substitutions just reflects on how taxing the game is now and how pertinent a role the rolling substitution rule has begun to play in modern hockey. Our coach Michael Nobbs made 41 substitutions.
After the match, Batch said: “This was not our best game of the tournament.” While the coach was just being honest, the remark added further insult to India's performance on the field.
Not a happy captain
Captain Bharat Chettri's angst post-match was obvious to see when he put it succinctly: "We have to learn more hockey. We have to go back and prepare more, work harder."
It needs to be kept in mind that while this is a dismal performance, India does have a young squad that is being groomed for the future. Once troublesome seniors have been axed, this team may still be able to play to its potential. Team building is a long process and it would not be fair to judge coach Michael Nobbs for the ten-odd months that he has been on the job.