Austria were tough, but now we can get better
At the outset, I must admit that Austria surprised us and though we went on to win 7-3 on Sunday, I must thank our opponents for waking our team from a slumber with their early goal.
It was the kind of match we needed as we now focus on our next game against Mexico on Tuesday. I thought we started off against Austria tentatively. I admit our midfield was rather shaky and we did not cut off the long balls that the Austrians used to breakway. And the goal in the very second minute was a direct result of our failure to intercept a long ball.
The early setback upset our game plan and rhythm. Our deep defence made silly mistakes and that brought pressure on us. But I never lost faith in our team for I knew we had the attack to beat the Austrians. It was just a question of putting our game together. As the match progressed, I thought it was best to re-organise the midfield so that the Austrians could be checked at the centerline rather than allowing them to develop into threatening attacks.
The first 15 minutes of the second-half was a decisive phase and at half time, I instructed the midfielders not to play so closely with the forwards, but focus on cutting off Austrian moves. The strategy worked and once our forwards got going, there was no stopping them.
It was a wake-up call for us. After the fairly easy outing against Russia on Saturday, perhaps we needed a tough match and the Austrians, who played typical European hockey, gave us a good run in the first-half. For the first time, our deep defence came under pressure and I was able to pinpoint the areas of weakness in this vital department. Our defenders were too slow and I thought the marking could have been better.
Our plan in the second-half was to score early and take control. Once Ignace gave us a 3-2 advantage, we seized the initiative. Goals in quick succession meant we did not give Austria a chance to recover. As for the third goal we conceded with 10 minutes left, I will mark it down to our players relaxing after going 7-2 up. I concede we should remain focused right through 70 minutes & this is something we are working on.
More than the seven goals we scored, I was happy that our bench strength made its presence felt. Bharat Chikara, Ignace Tirkey and Vikram Kanth not only scored goals, but also contributed in other ways. I am happy we have players with all-round ability. Of course, we do need specialists, but only in key areas like penalty corners. Otherwise, the emphasis is on players with multi-tasking skills and I am happy that our team has players whom I can rotate in various positions. I feel our team can only get better.