India will play their last match in this edition of the FIH Hockey World Cup against Argentina on Friday. For the hosts, a seventh-eight position is an improvement over the 11th they finished four years back in Monchengladbach, Germany.
Chief coach, Jose Brasa, who had set a fifth-eighth position as his target, was satisfied with the performance and said it was an “important step in the improvement curve” and that India would have to build on it during the Asian Games in China later this year.
“We had a lot of problems but we overcame them to reach this stage. I am satisfied with the way the team played and fought till the end. When I took over, everyone said the team was conceding goals in the final minutes. We haven’t conceded late goals in this World Cup,” Brasa said after Monday’s 3-3 draw against South Africa in the final Pool B match.
The coach admitted that the team needed to work on key areas, including defence. “The defence needs improvement. We need to utilise the left flank…our attacks are mostly coming from the right,” Brasa conceded.
When the euphoria of India’s best-ever performance after the 1994 World Cup subsides, Brasa and the mandarins will have to sit and take a dispassionate look at India’s performance.
The World Cup has exposed certain shortcomings that will continue to bother the team for years. Some non-performers will have to go; there is an urgent need to infuse fresh blood in defence, as Brasa’s tactics of makeshift defenders has not worked.
But the gravest concern is there aren’t enough players on the sidelines. “We need to make some changes in defence and attack. Some players have not performed while others don’t have age on their side. Sandeep Singh is a good drag-flicker but a terrible defender…we will have to think about his role,” said Zafar Iqbal.
“There are some players in the developmental squad but they are not enough. Barring some changes, like bringing in Prabodh Tirkey as left-half and SV Sunil as forward, we don’t have enough options. Where are the players to build a new team?” said Iqbal.
One of the options the selectors could explore is to field a young squad in the Commonwealth Games. It would give good exposure to youngsters against full-strength Australia, England and New Zealand. This strategy will also help India prepare for the Asian Games in Guangzhou in November.
Iqbal also spoke about reviving the Indira Gandhi Gold Cup and inviting top teams. “We have spent Rs 260 crore on refurbishing the National Stadium, so we should utilise it. We can revive the Indira Gandhi Gold Cup. The Europeans have strong domestic leagues, we don’t have such a system,” he said. Though Iqbal did not say it in as many words, it’s clear he wants the revival of the national league.