Coach Michael Nobbs’s confidence on the India hockey team’s fitness was short-lived. The 2-3 fighting loss to favourites Netherlands did raise hopes that eight years was worth the wait. Sandeep Singh converting a penalty-corner to give India the lead as early as in the second minute against New Zealand strengthened the belief.
But the eventual 1-3 loss and moreover the way India surrendered to New Zealand on Wednesday severely denting chances of qualifying for the semi-finals early in the tournament, has once again raised questions.
“I agree that the boys didn't play up to their standards and they were lacking in the fitness front too,” said Nobbs in the post-match conference.
Holes in defence
Conceding soft penalty-corners and allowing the rival strikers plenty of leeway inside the circle, India's defence allowed New Zealand to call the shots for the remaining 68 minutes of the match.
Andy Hayward (13th), Burrows Phillip (28th) and Wilson Nicholas (30th) scored for the Kiwis.
New Zealand had beaten India 5-1 in their last meeting in the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh.
“Today we missed a number of opportunities and there were gaps in our defence. We were disappointing on the penalty-corner front too. We still have a chance and will try to improve upon on our mistakes. Hope that team will bounce back in the remaining league matches,” Nobbs added.
India now have only an outside chance of qualification.
More to come
For that, they need to win their remaining matches and then hope for a few upsets in their favour.
Skipper Bharat Chetri, however, was not giving up just yet.
“The show from the side was disappointing. But we have not surrendered and there is hope. We will try to win the remaining three matches and then the play-offs.
“There is still plenty to look forward to,” said the skipper, who himself had to be replaced by RR Sreejesh under the bar.
For the Indian fans present at the River Bank Arena, there were just a couple of glimpses from the side to make them happy — some opportunities created and wasted and heroics by goalkeeper Sreejesh who helped India keep a clean slate in the second half.