Call it the Brasa effect. Jose Brasa, the Indian team’s Spanish coach, had always wanted the team to attack like an Asian team and defend like a European one. The team did just that against archrivals Pakistan in their opening match of the Hero Honda FIH World Cup here on Sunday.
And what a show it was at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium against a team that has got the better of them at this same venue many a time, including a humiliating 7-1 defeat in the 1982 Asian Games. India had to play a tactical game and not allow the four-time champions to take control and it all went pretty perfectly.
Running up and down the pitch, attacking the Pakistani citadel in waves and defending as a superb unit, India emerged 4-1 winners to give their campaign a rousing start and get this World Cup, submerged in controversy till the nth hour, a major shot in the arm.
The re-organisation of the midfield and the defence by Brasa paid rich dividends as this Indian team just did not seem like the one that lost 3-6 to Pakistan in the Champions Challenge I at Salta in Argentina last December.
The midfield worked to precision. Vikram Pillay, Sardar Singh, Gurbaj Singh and Arjun Halappa did not allow the Pakistani midfield to feed their forwards, who were anyway off colour despite the presence of the experienced Rehan Batt and Shakeel Abbasi. The Indian midfielders also steadily supplied the ball to the forwards. Shivendra Singh and Prabhjot Singh played exceptionally well while, in the defence, Bharat Chikara and Dhananjay Mahadik were rock solid.
Drag flicker Sandeep Singh, the key to India’s victory, fired a scored a brace of goals off superbly taken penalty corners after a tentative start, while Shivendra and Prabhjot Singh scored a goal each to put India in a commanding position. For Pakistan, the veteran Sohail Abbas scored the lone consolation. But what helped India most was that two of his scorching drag flicks merely rattled the goal frame.
With England upsetting Australia in the second match of the day, and Pakistan seeming thoroughly demoralised, India could use the momentum to push for a semifinal spot from Pool B.
With a very vocal crowd rooting for the home side, the National Stadium resembled a cauldron, or perhaps a modern-day Coliseum. The Indian and Pakistani players stepped into it like gladiators, ready to do battle in a game that could well decide their future in this tournament. Though the teams have four more matches to go, victory in the opener, as both the skippers said before the match, would give the team a big boost for tough battles ahead.