India’s players looked dejected as they trooped out of the ground after their narrow 4-3 defeat to England on Saturday. Such defeats normally affect the morale of the players and in case of an Indian team the confidence is always at its lowest after a defeat.
Former India players normally talk of the atmosphere of hopelessness that surrounds the Indian teams after they start losing. If an Indian team is winning, there is no stopping it, as the morale is very high. If it loses couple of matches, no amount of pep talk pulls them out of the depths of despair.
But this team is a bit different. Ever after three successive defeats in the Hero Honda FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup, the boys came out on the turf a few minutes after the match to thank the crowd for their support. So Jose Brasa will not face much trouble in motivating his players as they can still achieve their best finish in a World Cup since 1998 at Utrecht, Netherlands, where India finished 9th.
By beating South Africa in their final Pool B match on Monday, India can finish fourth in the group and play for the 7th and 8th position, which will be a big improvement for a team that finished 11th in the 2006 World Cup in Monchengladbach. Indian hockey has languished at the bottom for long and this will be the first step in the climb up the ladder.
But beating South Africa will be easier said than done, because South Africa played brilliant hockey on Saturday to outgun Pakistan 4-3. India’s players will not have missed seeing the scoreboard on Saturday as they stepped into the ground even as the Pakistanis and South Africans left. They will also have realised the enormity of the job in hand as they can’t take South Africa lightly.
On Saturday, Brasa agreed that the team was going on a learning curve and the experience of playing top teams will help them in future.
“For the last seven months, I have always insisted that we are in a learning phase. At this stage we have to think of playing better rather than winning,” said Brasa, suggesting that a 7th place finish would be a big step in that direction.” We have to keep this bunch together and prepare them for the Asian Games,” said Brasa.
“Against England, we played much better than in our last two matches. We were unlucky as Rajpal (Singh) came close to scoring the equaliser in the last minute. Had he done that we would have ended up splitting points. But still, it has been an improved performance from my boys,” said Brasa. “It was good to see the players fight till the last second and never give up. But we made some silly mistakes and paid for them.”