The handful of hockey aficionados who came all the way to the Al Rayyan and braved the energy-sapping heat, hoping for a miracle of sorts from the Indian hockey team, left with nothing more than disillusionment and disenchantment as the Indian men drew their last Group B league match against defending champions South Korea 1-1.
So much was the enthusiasm that the media box was packed to capacity with a whole lot of TV and newspaper crew toppling over each other.
This draw was the final nail in India’s coffin as they are now out of a medal contention for the first time in the history of the Games. Even the most die-hard followers of hockey in the country would agree that this spells the death of Indian hockey.
The last bastion has fallen and now the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games gold medallists and 2002 Busan Games runners-up will have to play for the 5-6 positions. And for the future, they will have to go through the rigmarole of continental tournaments to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.
There's no doubting that adversity brought out the best in the team; they controlled the game, dictated terms and had many gilt-edged chances to score — the last one just 20 seconds before the final hooter was laden with hope — but it was just not India's day.
If the first half was a slightly sedate affair, with India unable to push for even a single penalty corner, the second session brought with it a rejuvenated India, fighting hard and completely dominating the defending champions.
Barring the off-colour Tejbir Singh who cut a sorry figure, unable to fathom what was happening on the field, Shivendra Singh, Tushar Khandekar and Rajpal Singh played well in patches to make a mark up front.
Korea’s 41st minute goal through Jang Jong Hyun spurred the Indians on as they began to dominate proceedings. The midfield was receptive and the forwards seemed to have ironed out their weak points, but in the end what mattered was a victory to push China out on goal difference and move into second place behind Korea.
That did not happen. After V Raghunath converted a penalty corner in the 56th minute, the Indians kept on attacking but failed to get the desired results.
Twice, Harpal Singh laid out sumptuous passes for the forwards near the goal-mouth with pin-point free-hits from just outside the arc, but both went abegging.
Then, with only 20 seconds to go, he relayed a screeching shot to Rajpal near the goal line. But yet again it was the same story — Rajpal failed to connect. And India lost their link shuttle to the semifinals.
India's last man standing, skipper Dilip Tirkey, only had this to say, “Our (3-2) loss to China in the second league match cost us the semifinal berth.” The man who has defended India for a while now, was defenceless. The country had lost the plot a few days ago. Sunday was just a formality.
Chief coach Vasudevan Baskaran, who now faces an uncertain future — this is his third stint — said, “We played superb today. We had a chance to score in the last two minutes, but we are not complaining. The game against China was the most disappointing thing to happen and it’s a shame that we couldn't play like this against the Chinese. That was the game which affected us and our place in the tournament.”