A 16 year wait for Gold in the national game finally ended when the Incheon Asian Games Hockey event ended with a gold and bronze medal for India in the Men’s and Women’s category respectively. Both our teams improved their performance from the 2010 Asian Games where the women had failed to secure a podium place and the Men had settled for a Bronze.
In Focus: S. Parattu Raveendran, the hero with a mask
One of the most challenging roles in the game of hockey is that of the goalkeeper. The challenge is amplified many times over when the match result hinges on a penalty shootout but the Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh Parattu Raveendran stood up to the challenge and overcame it with bravado. Sreejesh was the hero for India after his performance in the final against Pakistan where he saved two crucial shots in the Penalty shootout. It requires a great level of courage and composure to defend the goal in a one on one situation and to block off attacks by the opponent. Sreejesh put up a calm exhibition of excellent goal keeping under pressure. His performances throughout the tournament was exceptional with clean sheets in four of the six games that the team played.
Realizing the significance of his contribution, Sreejesh said:
A match against Pakistan is never an easy prospect – especially for goalkeepers in a penalty shootout. We can either become heroes or zeroes.
The Men’s Journey to Gold
Pakistan derails India in the Group Stage
The only defeat in the tournament for the Men came in the 8th group stage match against historically bitter rivals Pakistan after a thriller of a game ended with Pakistan clinching victory Six minutes from time with a reverse hit by Muhammad Waqar. The match was tied at 1-1 after Muhammad Umar Bhutta gave Pakistan the lead in the 38th minute. India responded by launching attacks down both flanks but failed to capitalise on many chances before Chandanda equalised for India in the 52nd minute. The parity did not last for long and a defensive lapse in the very next minute opened space for Waqar to hand the winning goal to Pakistan.
The Chinese Test
The Indian men found themselves in a do-or-die situation after losing to Pakistan. The Semi-final spot was now solely depending on who the outcome of their final Group stage game against China. Taming the dragon is never an easy job but the Indian men beat the Chinese team 2-0 to progress into the semi-final courtesy of the goals by V. R. Raghunath (40′) and Birendra Lakra (45’).
Last Minute heroics Against the Hosts
It took a last minute strike by Akashdeep Singh for India to beat the hosts Korea 1-0 after a tense match looked set to be heading into the Penalty shootouts. It was a brilliant goal scored by Singh to put his team into the Finals of the tournament.
India Have the last laugh against Pakistan
The final of the Asian Games 2014 saw India locking horns with Pakistan once before. This was India’s shot at redemption and they took it in style. The Indian fans were on the edges of their seats after Muhammad Rizwan scored in the third minute for Pakistan. This time though India remained composed and equalized in the twenty-seventh minute with a smart deflection by Kothajit Singh.
A brilliant display of attacking hockey and equally brilliant defense ensued with both the teams launching quick attacks and the defenders putting up their best display by foiling them. The goalkeepers on both sides rose to the occasion and prevented any further goals in normal regulation.
The match went into the Penalty Shootouts and it was now down to who would control their nerves. The Indians proved to be the more composed side after the strikers scored four out of five shots. In the goal for India, Sreejesh blocked two crucial shots to ensure glory for India against a courageous Pakistani side.
The Women’s Journey to Bronze
The women started off their campaign on a positive note by beating the Thailand team 3-0 in their first group stage match. In the second match they took a 2-1 beating at the hands of the Chinese due to a last minute goal. The Indian women recovered strongly though by beating the Malaysians 6-1 in their final group stage match and finished second in their group. That meant India had secured a semi-final berth against the home team, South Korea.
Too strong to stop
The Koreans proved to be too strong for the Indian women as India lost 3-1 in the Semi Final. Toppo was the lone scorer for the Indians. The Koreans opened scoring in the third minute before Toppo equalised. The match was evenly fought before the Koreans were able to break through via a perfectly taken penalty corner scored by Han Hyelyoung in the 28th minute. Park Mihyun added a third in the 42nd minute.
Overcoming Japanese Resistance
The Indian women left behind the disappointment of losing the semi final and focused on their Bronze medal game against Japan. They made no mistakes this time over and gave Japan little room to settle by taking the lead in the 23rd minute. Jaspreet Kaur converted the second Penalty corner that India had won in succession.
Japanese Shibata took advantage of a defensive lapse in the 41st minute to equalise. Almost instantaneously India replied in the 42nd minute. Vandana Kataria scored a field goal after being fed by Rani Rampal who jinxed the Japanese with a darting run. The match ended with the scoreline reading 2-1 in India’s favor.
After 8 years the Indian women reclaimed Bronze in the Asian Games. However, the Coach Neil Hawgood said the colour of the medal should have been different this time around lauding his team’s performance in the tournament.
We really played well in this tournament. But I am little disappointed with the fact that inspite of playing better hockey against Korea we couldn’t make it to the final. We played well enough to beat Korea. – Neil Hawgood, Indian Women’s Hockey Coach
While the Men have now qualified directly for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the women still have a long road ahead before securing that berth. After finishing last at the London Olympics in 2012 the men have shown significant improvement and will look to carry this form to Rio. The women having lost out in the qualifiers in London must concentrate on securing a position for the 2016 Olympics and will need to work harder to achieve it.
Asian Games 2014 has helped India reassert its authority on the Hockey field after a few disappointing performances and one looks forward to the return of “Good Days” for Indian hockey.