Joaquim Carvalho and his hockey boys have cleared two tests on their way to the big examination — the qualifiers for the Beijing Olympic Games early next year. They won their second bronze medal in a row at the Champions Challenge in Belgium on Sunday.
India, thus, maintained their world ranking (8) and will also probably be involved in the qualifiers in Santiago, Chile, expected to be the easier of the three qualifiers.
However, as they celebrate their success, they will also be ruing the chances they missed in all their matches.
“We could have won the tournament. We had a good team but failed to capitalise on our chances,” Carvalho told Hindustan Times on Wednesday, a day after returning home from Belgium.
Asked to assess his team’s performance in Belgium, Carvalho said he was satisfied but not happy.
“Going by our ranking and the abilities of the players, we had a good chance at the title. But we made some mistakes at crucial junctures and missed a number of chances. I would blame the inexperience of the players for that."
“But, the players showed that they are capable of playing better. I have not seen such attacking play by an Indian team in recent times. Also the boys did a lot of running and field coverage, just like the European teams, and that I feel is a good thing about this lot."
“But there were also some lessons, some concerns that the coaching staff will have to sort out before the next tournament,” Carvalho said.
The team will regret their performance in the league match against Argentina in which they squandered as many as a dozen penalty corners and lost 1-2 despite dominating the South Americans in the second half.
Carvalho also lamented the ‘unfavourable’ weather change in their opening match. It rained a lot on that day and the ball was not at all moving, the Indians failed to adapt to the conditions and lost 0-2 to New Zealand.
But what would be a much bigger concern for the coaches will be the form of penalty corner specialist Sandeep Singh, who was found wanting both in fitness and the short corner conversion. Also, the habit of letting the guard down after taking the lead!
Though Carvalho refused to speak about individual players, the coaching staff will have to assess the young drag flicker’s performance in the light of the chances he missed. Agreed that Sandeep was playing his first tournament after returning from injury and lacks match practice. Still, his poor conversion rate should be a matter of discussion in the next selection meeting.
Carvalho refused to answer questions on forward Gagan Ajit Singh, who failed to find a place in the team. “The selectors picked the team and any questions in that regard should be addressed to them,” he said.
Carvalho also rejected the contention that the team lacked a good striker. “We scored a number of goals and some of the senior players that I brought back performed quite well. Yes, we need better conversion from the forwards, but we can’t say that we missed a striker.”
Though the team will be basking in glory having won the bronze medal, Carvalho sounded a warning to his players that they can’t take things for granted after two good performances. “No one is guaranteed his place in the team. I have given preference to performance in the camp and will do the same in future too.”
Though the coach was keeping his cards close to the chest, it was clear he was happy with some of the players, but would take a fresh look at the performance of others. That would mean some changes in the team for the next assignment — the Asia Cup to be held at Chennai in September.